Recently, I read a wonderful article in the October issue of “Texas Co-Op Power”, magazine, called “The Hole Story”
It brought back the memories of just how rough “Hard Times” were in years past.
I am too young to recall the Depression Years or the World War II years, but I can recall being super poor in the 50’s. I contend that most Texans growing up in the 50’s feel wealthy today compared to their youth.
During the 50’s there were no food stamps “relief” programs for hungry poor families.
Feeding a family with very limited income required women to be inventive. It was during this period that biscuits and tortillas became a major staple for each meal. Even farm families had to curb their intake of eggs and meat. It was common for breakfast to consist of oatmeal, biscuits and gravy, or tortillas potatoes & beans. Eggs were usually served to the workingmen of the family.
During these years a single chicken had to feed an entire family, so along came chicken and dumplings. It was a special occasion in which there was enough fried chicken to feed everyone.
Red meat was “stretched” to feed the family; these were the years casseroles and meat loafs were born. Soups were common. Potatoes were the primary vegetable, if not the only vegetable at meals. Home gardens and home canning provide vegetables and fruit through out the year.
Almost every Texan had a few fruit trees. Rarely were there any leftovers. It was unusual to see overweight or fat people. Company usually brought along food, except for the preacher and his wife.
Electricity was a luxury. Most poor families had a single radio, and its use was limited. Most Texans could not afford “refrigerated air”. During hot summer days, the fan or “scamp coolers” were used only at the peak heat hours of the day and very hot nights—but most poor families could not afford this luxury. Often fans were replaced by taking a bath in the evening and sleeping with wet towels. Many poor families only keep the light on in a single room at night and then only until bedtime. Night-lights were unheard of. I can recall the very early years in which our family rural farm did not have electricity; lighting was from “coal oil” lamps. Milk and fresh meat was kept in an “Ice Box”.
Most homes of the poor were heated by gas. Gas was expensive. Heaters usually consisted of “space heaters “ that rarely heated the entire room. Most rooms of the house were not heated at all. Usually a single room was heated, with doors to rest of the house closed. The kitchen stove usually provided the heat in the kitchen and often this was the only room ever heated. The stove was turned off at night, except during a hard freeze. During a hard freeze the stove's flame was turned down very low to help prevent water pipes from freezing.
Many families could not afford to purchase “store bought clothes”. Except for blue jeans, coveralls, and underwear --the woman of the house sewed most of the clothing.
Many rural farms did not have indoor plumbing as we know it today. Some rural families were lucky enough to have water plumbed into the kitchen. Bathing was done in a 5 0 galvanized tub. Hot water came from heating the well tank water on the kitchen stove. Toilet facilities consisted of an outhouse.
No government housing assistance checks were availible in the 50's , though many major cities had government housing—of brick walls and cement floors. Other than government buildings, only the wealthy could afford brick homes.
Things started improving in the late 50’s. Many young poor farmer’s youth left the farms. They could find jobs paying regular wages and city living conditions were better. Most town and city homes had electricity and indoor plumbing. Poor families could even afford to purchase more “store bought” items--clothing, bread, can vegetables, eggs, and cheap cuts of beef/pork/chicken. However, many poor families still relied on home gardens to supplement their “groceries”.
Most poor Americans today live in luxury compared to life in the Hard Times of the 50’s.
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