Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Making Do

My mama came from a family of ten kids, two girls and eight boys. She grew up in a close, knit family that believed in working for ye keep and learning early on how to survive and get by. Many times she told how they survived the depression and made do with whatever they had.

Back then everybody grew their own food but the basics were hard to come by. During the depression they gave out coupons and they’d pick em up at the little local store. The storekeeper would hand em out each month according to how many was in a family. He always had to keep records of what he handed out fer the government. He helped people out a lot too. They’d bring their canned goods in and exchange em for something they needed. There was always someone in need and he knew he would be able to get rid of it all.

Mama said most of the time they’d just get a couple pounds of coffee to do a month or five or ten pounds of flour, and a bucket of lard with their coupons. If they were lucky to get an extra coupon they’d get a small bag of sugar or an extra five pounds of flour. The flour came in cloth sacks and their mother saved them up and sewed them into dresses and shirts.

 Mama said that grandma would boil the same coffee grounds over and over till that coffee was so thin ye could see through it. Even after the depression started easing up and grandpa went to work for the WPA and they had a little more to live on grandma was still in the saving mode and kept boiling the coffee grounds over and over. My grandpa got tired of it and told her one day, now Sarie (Sarah) stop boiling them coffee grounds over so much. What ye doing, straining it through a white rag, you can stop now I want some real coffee not stained water. It was hard for grandma to change, she’d been in the saving business to long.

They always had plenty of cornmeal for bread since they grew the corn and grandpa carried big toe sacks to my other grandpa’s old grist mill every week. She said they only used the flour for breakfast cause they sure did love them cathead biscuits and gravy. There was many a morning they had to eat cornbread with their gravy cause they didn’t have any flour. Of course, cornmeal gravy and cornbread is the best eating around.

She and her brothers used to trap rabbits and take them to the little country store in exchange for some of the basics they needed. This was after they cleaned the rabbits up good and the head had to stay on them. My grandma knew exactly what the rabbits were worth by how many they had caught. He paid by the pound and she knew it. She’d make out a list of what she needed and send them to the store to fill it.

One time she and one of her brother’s that was the closest to her in age caught ten rabbits and took off towards the store with the rabbits on a stick and grandma’s list. On the way to the store her brother told her we’re gonna get us something good today. Mama told him, no we can’t cause mommy knows exactly how many rabbits we got, she’s made her list. He stuck his hand up under his coat and pulled out another rabbit. He said, I told you we’re gonna get us something good today. The only problem was the rabbit didn’t have a head. Apparently, while they were cleaning them one lost its head someway and he’d stuck it under his coat. The storekeeper always wanted them with their heads intact. He had a little shed over to the side of the store building that people hung their rabbits in.

When they got to the store and hung their rabbits they went in and told him how many they had and gave him their list. He walked outside and went in and looked at the rabbits from the door and counted them. He said, somebody’s counted wrong this time, you’ve got eleven instead of ten.
 Mama said her brother spoke up and said alrighty, we got enough to get us something good this time. The storekeeper told him ye sure do, so pick out what ye want. Her brother pointed to a big jar of candy sitting on the counter and said we want a whole, paper bag of that candy. He filled their list and the bag of candy and they headed home. The candy was chocolate drops and can still be bought today, especially around Christmas time and they’re rich as can be.

On the way home they eat the whole bag of chocolate drops and by the time they got home they were sicker than a buzzard. They started puking and they puked all night. My grandma didn’t know what in the world to think. She was up with em all night trying to clean up the messes and do what she could fer em.
The next morning they felt and looked like death warmed over. When grandma seen they were on the mend she asked em what did they eat to get so sick. They’d been taught all of their life not to lie and knew if they did they’d be in worse shape than they already were so they told her the truth. She marched them back over the road to the store and made em tell the storekeeper what they’d done. He just stood there and looked at em fer a bit and then he spoke up and said, well I guess they’ve been punished enough this time but it better not happen again.
From that day forward they didn’t take another rabbit without its head and they never eat another chocolate drop as long as they lived.

To say times were rough is an understatement but they survived the best way they knew how and mama said they never went to bed hungry a night in their life. They always had something to eat even if it was an old possum baked in the oven. I guess that’s why she hated the sight of an ole possum. Back then times were so hard they had to make do.

                                          © Susie Swanson, 2015

The picture above is my mom, her daddy and mama back when she was young. 
Notice how tall the corn is. Blessings, ~Susie


  1. Thank you for sharing things that happened in your mom's family during depression. When you see people fussing over coffee other than Starbuck's you wonder how lucky they are.
    You mom is pretty in the picture. Yes the corn is very tall.

  2. Susie, it was nice hearing about your mama and all the 10 kids in her family. I especially liked the part about the candy jars and eating all the chocolate drops all the way home. It reminds me of getting penny candy when I was little at the town store and enjoying it while I walked home. I love listening to old stories, and this one was such a treasured story.

    love, ~Sheri

  3. Susie, it's wonderful that you remember the stories your mother told you; you can pass them on to others who might never know the hardships of times past. I just sincerely hope we never see such hard times again.

    How are you feeling these days?

    1. Thank you Charlotte. I hope we never have to experience it either.

  4. Thank you Susie for another wonderful memory! Your mother was pretty. I hate to think how people would get by if those really hard times hit today.

    1. Thank you Elaine. I've thought the same thing many times.

  5. It's surprising how well people can get by on what they have and a little ingenuity. Great stories about your family, Susie.

  6. Susie, Your mom's pretty. We ate rabbits and squirrels and any kind of fish my parents or bothers caught. I remember many tough times, many times being hungry. But our parents made do some how...we just never had sweets or more than one helping. I will never eat another squirrel or rabbit. Just can't. Blessings to you. xoxo,Susie

    1. Thank you Susie. We ate squirrels but can never recall eating rabbits. I don't think I could eat any squirrels now. Blessings to you.

  7. Hi, Susie. Some people think they have it hard today, but it is nothing like it was in the old days. Loved reading about your memories of times gone by. My grandma had ten children, also. I remember when I was young, people got what they called 'commodities'. It was usually cheese, dry milk, etc. And, people canned just about everything! We are now canning potatoes, something we have never canned before, but I think I will love opening them up this winter and enjoying them.

  8. Another wonderful story, Susie.
    Another side of 'the good ol' days' hard times, but strong families!

  9. Hi Susie, praying you are well...My husband grew up in a family of 11 kids, they had no running water for most of that time, and lived in a tiny two bedroom house. He knows a lot about having to make do. I think it is such a valuable thing to have the skills to be able to make do with what we have...The Bible teaches us that we are more precious than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, yet God cares for them with much love...so we are cared for by our loving heavenly Father...I think too many folks tend to forget that when they keep their eyes upon all the pretty and shiny things of the world. That's why I love wildflowers and pinecones and all the free things that God places all around me...I told my husband years ago to never buy me flowers...and I have not kept a bird in a cage for many years now, since I've started to feed the wild ones. What a variety of birds that come to visit here! So much more exciting and fun than the captive ones.
    Now we are considering selling this place in order to buy another nearby where there is good gardening soil and we will be able to keep a few chickens. There's even a nice little creek nearby to fish in. I am looking forward to stocking my pantry with home canned goods once again, and learning how to make do with what we can harvest from our own land. We are negotiating with the bank, and if all goes well, our house payment will be just a bit more than half of what we now pay here! Of course we will need to really tighten our belts until we sell our home...but it can be done as long as we are careful, and with what we save by home gardening and harvesting chicken eggs etc. I am excited to be able to live closer to the land...Living in the forest has had its benefits, but it does not allow for a good garden, and our township does not allow keeping chickens or other animals in our neighborhood, so we feel its time for this change.
    Please pray we have success!
    Blessings and love~ Lisa