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The practice of leaving the food out for a noon snack also would lead to what was referred to as “Summer Complaint”, or as we would call it, diarrhea… which was probably a low level of food poisoning. The attitude was ‘So you have summer complaint? Don’t we all. Keep working.’ I’ll say it now, those were some tough people.

Foods were stored in bug proof containers. The most popular was fifteen pound capacity metal coffee cans with tight lids. These were for day to day use in the kitchen. (I still have one of them. It’s a family heirloom.) The next were barrels to hold the bulk foods like flour, sugar, corn meal, and rice. Everything was sealed or the vermin would get to it. The vermin was also why people sifted flour in particular. There was always at least one, preferably two, months of food on hand. If the fall cash allowed, they would stock up for the entire winter before the first snowfall.


Homestead: Preparedness Lessons from the 1930s

Homestead: Preparedness Lessons from the 1930s
 

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How did they even survive before Google?
 

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And most people today dont have a clue about what to do or how to do it if all the “magic” went away. Most have a few days if that of supplies on hand.

The snowflakes would melt away from society rather quickly I believe.




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Except for coyotes that was the story of my dad's family back in the WV mountains in the 30's and 40's.

Out house was small shed behind the house.

Water came from a "water box" up the creek from the house and from a spring on the hill side across the creek from the back of the house. I hear the spring water made better coffee.

They had a small barn (one to two milk cows), feed house (for storing the food for the animals) and chicken coop. There was a grown up pig pen in the briers/rocks across the creek from the garden but grandma said they really didn't have a pig more than a couple times over the years. She said they didn't generate enough waste food for the pig and buying grain to feed it wasn't possible with their family income.

Family living in the house was my dad, his brother, three sisters, grandma and grandpa and grandpa's mom and dad. So four adults and five kids in a three bedroom house.

They food was cooked on a cook stove in the kitchen year round. During the hotter summer months they would eat supper on the screened in back porch where it was cooler.

No dogs or cats were allowed in the house in those days. By the way, dad grew up thinking cats were pretty much worthless. They regular caught/killed rats in the feed house and around the barn that the cats would ignore. I guess between the mice, birds and grandma's oatmeal the cats were too fat to feel the need to stalk/kill a rat.

Pets? Hunting dogs (mixed breed, but they had to hunt, anything else was a waste of food/time) and cats. The dogs learned the difference between grandma's cats and strays. Strays were treed if not caught/killed on the ground on their way to a tree. Cats just can't figure out why they need to stay in a tree though and well, eventually, come down to the waiting dogs and the end was the same. Somebody has to carry the dead cat off and bury it in the woods. How did grandma feed the pets? Cats got oatmeal (I remember her making it and stepping out back to call them and cats appearing everywhere, it seemed, to run to the steps to get in on the two pie pans of warm oatmeal. The dogs ate a lot of bread, either left over wheat bread or grandma would even make fresh cornbread for them when the left over wheat bread ran low.

The left over bread went into the "bread drawer" on the big cabinet in the kitchen. We'd sneak into the kitchen, through the back door, go to the bread drawer and search out the freshest breakfast biscuits and carry out one for each of us to eat as we headed off to the next chore/task. I don't remember thinking we were taking food away from the dogs.

There was a cellar under the house for the canned food (grandma canned garden vegetables, apples, berries, etc.) It was also used for baskets of apples and potatoes from the garden.

There was coal house at the back of grandma's house. Coal was the major source of heat/cooking in the colder months. Wood was used in the summer, for cooking as you wouldn't want an all day fire anyway. I've shoveled more than a couple truckloads of coal into that old coal house in preparation for winter. There was a small door, about 5 feet off the ground, used to toss shovel loads of coal through. You learned to hit that open door or you had to stop and go shovel/pick it up off the ground below the doorway. Dad didn't take kindly to dirt in the coal so it was just a good idea to hit that hole. When dad was a kid he'd go up on the old strip mines on the mountain above the house and with a pick/shovel dig coal out of the exposed seams. In the winter time he put it in old sacks and loaded it on a sled to pull it down the mountain. In the summer he used a big wheel barrow. Some of that coal was sold to other people living in the area.

Big wood was cut with an old felling saw that belonged to my great grandpa. Small wood was cut with buck saws on the saw horse at the wood pile. Grandpa would split stove wood and kindling at his seat and chop block at the wood pile. Two small sheds by the wood pile where used to store kindling, the buck saws, the small pole axe grandpa split wood with and the nails they saved from any scrap wood they cut up for burning. Yeah, I spent time, as a kid, pulling nails out of wood and straightening them out for grandpa to sort out. As a kid, nails are nails. Grandpa used a system of old food cans to store nails in. Nails were used to pop a hole through the sides of the can up near the top and then old blasting wire was used to wind through the two holes to make a carrying handle for the bucket.

Files were important tools, too. The only way to sharpen the saws was with the files.

Other tools were sharpened differently. Ever seen the cores from a core drilling location? Up home they are mostly sandstone. There's lots of pieces of that lying around at home for sharpening sickles, scythes and touching up an axe/hatchet. Just hold a piece in one hand and move it back and forth on the edge at the right angle. When were cutting the brush off the hillside across the creek from grandma's house we'd take a piece of it over there with us to touch up the scythe blade as needed. It's amazing, once you get the hang of the proper movement speed, blade angle, etc. how fast you can cut a section of grass/briers, etc with a scythe. Did you know there are grass blades and brush blades for scythes? Long slender blades for grass (hay) and short wide blades for brush.

Dad loved fried potatoes and onions till he passed away. He used to say, beans and fried potatoes for lunch and fried potatoes and beans for supper.

They'd milk the cow(s) in the morning and then turn them out to wander the woods to eat what they could find. Dad said the woods in those days were like a big park. No under brush anywhere. In the evening dad would go look for the cows. Sometimes cows belong to multiple owners would get together and move around during the day and dad would bring them all back and walk them to their owners pens before bringing there cow home, to be milked again before being shut up in the barn for the night with whatever extra feed they had for them.

Gardens? They had three. One above the house. One on the hill side across the creek from the house and one up on a flat on the mountain behind the house. The one on the mountain was hand dug/cultivated with hoes, mattock and a shovel. The ones at the house got plowed in the spring, some years, by a guy who traveled around with a mule and a plow and got paid to plow the small gardens people had near their homes.

I got a kick out of the comments about .22's and .22 shorts. Think about how often we see the newest/latest long rifle hollow points being tested/recommended for small game? Dad told me they used .22 shorts, too. Two reasons. First was they were cheaper than longs or long rifles. The second was they were quieter. Dad said sometimes squirrels wouldn't pay any attention if you shot another squirrel in the same tree (or heaven forbid, missed one when he moved his head just as you shot). If you missed they'd stop cutting on the hickory nut, look around, then go back to cutting on the nut while you lined up or the shot. Head shots were used mostly for allowing you to bring home meat with not damage/bone splinters in it and because it was easy to pick them up off the ground where you shot them vs. trying to follow a blood trail to a hole in the tree or under some rocks).

I remember dad telling the story of his dad walking out of the house one day after lunch with his old Western Field .22 single shot bolt action and seven .22 shorts. When he came back later in the afternoon he had four squirrels, two rabbits and one ruffed grouse. All head shots.

Grandma used "sure gel" for canning jellies/jams when I was a kid. She said it made things much quicker and easier as you didn't have to use as much sugar or cook it nearly as long (longer cooking equaled cooking some of the good stuff out of it but I'm not sure they really knew that back then.)

My grandma was the oldest kid in her family. She was taken out of school after the 2nd grade to take care of her younger brother and sisters. She said her mom would put a chair up to the sink so she could wash/dry dishes after meals. The water was heated on the stove. Grandma was an avid reader and had old book cases full of books. She taught herself to read (everyone said).

Grandpa's fingers were yellowed on the ends from so many years of rolling his own cigarettes to smoke. One time I asked him how many years he'd been smoking. He stopped rolling the latest one and told me, "Well, I started smoking when I went to work in the mines (coal mines). You know, that didn't tell me much. I wanted to know how many years, not what he was doing when he started smoking. I thought about it a bit and asked differently, "Grandpa, how old were you when you started working in the mines?" He then replied, "I was eleven years old." At the age of 7 or 8 I remember being awed that someone would be working in the mines around grown ups at the age of 11.

Over the years, as the kids grew up and left home, the amount of ground gardened was reduced as well as the milk cow(s) being sold and not replaced.

Grandma worked as a cook at the local elementary school and walked to and from work every day regardless of the weather. People older than me used to tell me (30 plus years ago when I was still at home) how good my grandma could cook. They used to brag about her bread, especially. Grandpa was injured in the mines and couldn't work. No disability in those days. My great grandpa got some kind of month payments (I don't know the source) and between great grandpa's monthly check, grandma's salary from the school board and all the gardens, fruit/berry harvesting, wood cutting, coal digging, the cow, the chickens and small game hunting they got by.

That stuff affects some people for life. No matter what we did grandpa was never happy with it. It was never good enough, never fast enough, never done to suit him. I don't know if that old man ever had a smile split his lips. If he did, I never saw it. I grew up just figuring he didn't like kids but I never brought it up with my dad. I know my mom and dad's sisters/brother always got along better with his dad than they did him. Then again, grandpa was the WW1 veteran who signed up with some of his buddies to go off to France and fight in the 3rd US Inf. Div. Only grandpa came back. His buddies are buried in cemeteries across France and Germany. Things like that change people, sometimes.

When we were at home the only time we didn't work on something was on Sundays and when it rained. I still love to fish in the rain to this day, 50 years later. Some of the best days we had at home were rainy days on the river fishing for small mouth bass and red eyes.

Sometimes I think my kids missed out on doing a lot of the stuff I did when I was growing up.
 

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A little more.

The coal house had all kinds of broken pots/pans under it. By the time I came along they'd been there for years. Grandma said they were there for when the cooper came by. The "cooper" was a guy who traveled around in a wagon with tools/small forge for repairing metal items. He could put the handles back on or make new ones, take big dents out of a pan someone had dropped, fix some small cracks, etc. He would do some work in trade for broken pots/pans/metal items he thought he could fix and sell at another stop on down the road in his circuit.

Where ever the burn pile was from the previous years hill side brush cutting/clearing was is where grandma would plant her cucumbers the next spring. I remember wondering why the cucumbers weren't in the garden with everything else and she told me the cucumbers grew real well in the dirt where the ashes from the burn pile had lain all winter/spring. They'd be mixed together when she used a hoe or mattock to dig up/break up the soil for planting.

Altitude makes a tremendous difference in temperatures and growing seasons. One of the sayings dad would repeat often was, "if the corn is knee high by the fourth of July, it'll make." In other words, if the top of the plant was about 18" tall by July 4, there would be enough time for the corn plants to make corn you could pick/eat. At home, I've seen frost on the 4th of July. Not what they call a "killing frost," but the tops of the cars/trucks, houses would be white with it where the moisture condensed from the air over night would freeze that next morning. My wife has a small jewelry chest that belonged to her grandma. It has dates on it (month, day and year) from a 30 to 40 year period. Dates in the spring, summer and fall. I asked if the pencil recorded dates were the birth days of her grandma's children and grandchildren. She said, "No, it's the date when it snowed during warm weather. I was really surprised by then, I couldn't see any reason why the old lady would turn that jewelry chest over and write on the bottom of it unless it seemed important to remember the dates. Not that it accumulated any snow on the ground (ground would be too warm for that) but dates when it got cold enough there in the mountains to snow, even in July or August.

Sometimes they go two or three years without any apples. Late frosts kills the bloom.

There's a small poor looking peach tree growing out from under the coal house. It's somewhat protected from the frost there. Every now and then, once every 3 or 4 years it'll have a ripe peach or two on it. It's never gotten very big, maybe 3 to 4" around at the base. Mom said grandpa would watch it like a hawk and he really enjoyed that peach, or two, he'd get to eat ever 4 or 5 years.

There was huge cherry tree behind the house next door to grandma's house. In about 1973 or 74 it had cherries on it and we picked and ate cherries and grandma canned cherries and made cherry pies till we got tired of them. I didn't think anything about (mom and dad had just bought the house and were taking the first steps to fixing it up to move into when dad retired from the Air Force) right then. Later I heard one of my dad's sisters mention that the last time the tree had cherries on it her oldest son was 3 years old. She said that was in 1953 or 54. Twenty years where the late frosts would get the bloom of that cherry tree. Dad cut it down. He said it shaded the back of the house too much for no more benefit that it was.

Same for "mast" for the game to eat. Sometimes there will be a couple years with no acorns, no hickory nuts. The squirrels, for the most part, just leave and go somewhere they can find food. Usually, you can still find beech nuts down in the bottoms along the creeks.

We ate groundhogs when I was younger. Barbecued (on the stove top in a pot of barbecue sauce) ground hog is really good. I never ate coon or possum. Dad said coon is greasy and possum isn't too good. My grandma said my grandpa and his dad were fond of hawk meat. Time were hard. No deer (killed off - there was no deer hunting season in that part of WV till about 1958 or 59 and even after that you had to travel up north several counties to find a deer to shoot). No wild turkeys (I never saw a wild turkey until about 1980 or 1981.) Some years the place is crawling with rabbits and then you won't see one for a couple/three years. Grouse have a cycle, a couple good years followed by several low years before they build back up.

Grandpa was very good at something they call "snagging." The water is very clear in the rivers up there. You get out on some rocks, take a piece of fishing line with a hook on it (a treble hook not on a fishing lure was illegal to have in your possession while fishing for many years back there in WV, used to say so right in the fishing regulations) and watch for fish swimming past the rock. Then he'd ease the hook over towards the fish and at the right time/spot give it a jerk to hook the fish and pull it in. Of course, if the game warden caught you doing that it was also illegal. People have to eat, after all.

There's an old crow bar on the front porch at grandma's house made out of an octagonal Winchester rifle barrel. I have no idea what happened to the rifle to result in the barrel being turned into a crow bar.

People did not throw away broken stuff if they could repurpose it to another use. One of the old guy (older than dad) that worked over at the corner store with dad used to say something he told me everyone would say in those hard days, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Hard times make for hard people. That old guy was a WW2 US Army vet. The only tale he ever told me was about a time they were escorting a bunch of German soldiers/POW's somewhere. He said he had a 12 ga. pump shotgun (I want to say it was a Stevens, but that was over 30 years ago and I'm not sure). He said they had stopped and told all of the POWs to sit down on the side of the road. As he was watching the ones in front of him he heard and argument up the road and turned towards it. One of his guys was arguing with a big POW that he said was over 6 ft. tall and looked very strong. He yelled at someone to watch his guys and headed that way. He got there and asked what the problem was and his private told him the POW would not sit down. He said he turned to the POW and told him to sit down. The POW shook his head and said, "No." That resulted in the 12 ga. barrel being poked into the guys teeth/mouth hard enough to break some teeth, cause some bleeding and knock the guy down flat on his ass. The old guy leaned down, put the muzzle of the 12 ga. right up in the POWs face and told him next time he would pull the trigger rather than talk to him. The rest of the trip the big German POW was very cooperative. The look on his face, as the memories came back to him, made me believe him. The old guy I knew that worked with dad every day was gone. There was some other guy standing there talking to me that I'd never met/didn't know and it was kind of spooky. Then the tale was over and the old guy was back to his smiling self, the friendly guy I knew.

Only tough people survive tough times.
 
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