Easter Ideas From the Depression Era

Easter 1924Easter 1924 Thu, Apr 17, 1924 – 2 ·(This is the year that Gail Lee McGhee was born.The Eureka Herald and Greenwood County Republican (Eureka, Kansas) · Newspapers.com –  

Gail Lee Martin’s book gets a mention now and then, which shows the staying power of old-fashioned ways from the Great Depression era. It seems that when times get hard, people look back to the 1930s for how families survived.

“Purchasing dye tablets, powders and craft paints can become expensive. Making your own with natural products can be a matter of using leftover juices from preparing foods, saving your household budget some money in the process, as detailed by the author of “My Flint Hills Childhood,” whose mother managed her home of five on a Great Depression budget.” (article on eHow called Natural Plant Dyes & Activities for Children By Holly Huntington)

Since it’s almost Easter time and people are still in the “stay home” mode, there’s likely to be an interest in coloring your eggs without store-bought dyes.

easter eggs pixabay

You won’t want to sacrifice eggs for some Easter fun with the current difficulty in getting those. I recommend blowing out the contents of the egg and saving those in the fridge for scrambled eggs or for baking. What you have left is a rather fragile eggshell that’s just waiting to be decorated.

Gail’s Memories of Easter in the 1930s

I remember as a child out in the Flint Hills of Kansas during the thirties we colored eggs for Easter. We had to think ahead to that special day because we didn’t have commercial egg coloring back then. My folks raised chickens and kept a few laying hens just for our own eggs. So we would save eggs for Mother to hard-boil and then we would color them in rainbow hues to be hidden on the prairie on Easter morning. Mother’s White Rock hens laid white eggs that were best for coloring.

Mother relied on Mother Nature a lot to obtain colors for our eggs by saving juice from cooked beets to make various shades of pink and red eggs. Yellow onion skins were steeped in hot water to produce a gorgeous yellow shade and the longer the egg remained in the colored water the darker it would get. Wild elderberries provided a juice that was a deep purple and a wet green leaf wrapped around an egg would leave a beautiful imprint on the egg. Mother used commercial blueing in her rinse water to whiten the laundry and we used some of it to make lovely blue-tinted eggs.

elderberry berries pixabay

We also used wax from candles to make designs on the eggs before immersion in the liquid dye. I believe Mother also added vinegar to the natural juices but that might have been later when the little dye tablets came out in stores. We hid and hunted the eggs as a game, with no mention of the Easter Rabbit that is so talked about today. Anyone who has raised rabbits knows they don’t lay eggs of any type. To the children of mid-thirties, the art of coloring eggs was just another sign of Spring in our community.

We also just hid them one time and then made egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs and put them into potato salad and had a picnic.

To hear this memory in Gail’s own voice, go to the story at Our Echo, then click on the audio link.

Gail’s Early WWII Memories

On December the 7th, we were all shocked when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Now World War II was not just looming, it was a reality. Rationing became a way of life; my friends older brothers were inducted into the army, navy or the air force. All eighteen-year-old males had to register for the draft. Everyone was worried. My friend, Clyde Martin’s brother Ralph, who had been working at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, enlisted in the air force.

img_1598

Scrap metal and rubber collected during WWII for the war effort. (photo taken at WWII museum in NH by Virginia Allain)

Life struggled on as we all tried to be patriotic by saving scrap metal and grease. We went on scrap hunts to find unused and abandoned metal. Sugar, meat, oil, gasoline, and rubber went on the ration list. Families were issued ration booklets to keep everybody honest.

War slogans became my classmate’s secret passwords, “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT” and we interpreted that slogan to mean we did not need any more studies; we wanted to help win the war.

 

Christmas was very quiet that year. Packages of home baked goodies were mailed early to our relatives, friends, and neighbors in boot camp or overseas. No one went any place unnecessary because of the shortage of gasoline and tires. My family usually had relatives come to our home for Christmas for lots of good food, togetherness, and exchange of homemade gifts, but not the Christmas of 1941.

wwii-ration-book

The spring semester dragged on and I managed somehow to get good enough grades to let me graduate. No one knows how worried I was about passing the 12th-grade exam. However, I must have known more than my teachers and I had every thought of. As long as I was not rushed or having to recite out loud I did well. This exam was a written test; anyway, I passed and attended baccalaureate ceremony and the graduation ceremony. Back in those days, we did not wear floor-length dresses except for fancy weddings. At least in the Midwest and in a county that was made up mostly of farmers and oil workers.

(emailed to daughter, Virginia, on Saturday, August 11, 2012)

The Christmas of Our First TV

Gail Lee Martin posted this to the Our Echo website in 2011. Here it is for your Christmas reading enjoyment. If it triggers some Christmas memories for you, please share them in the comment section at the end.

The advent of the TV in our home happened the first Christmas we lived on the Greene farm three miles north of El Dorado. This was in 1960 and Clyde had a good job and working regularly so we decided to get a brand new television for a Christmas for a present for all our six kids! We keep it hid in that old garage under some junk until Christmas morning. Clyde and I went out and brought it in before the kids woke up.

We had an end table to put it on and one of us had the idea that we ought to have it turned on when the kids got up. So making sure the volume was turned real low we turned it on. Now remember it was Christmas time and colder than blue blazes outside. Clyde and I were really excited as we turned on the TV on and snap, crackle, and pop the cold tubes broke as the hot electricity hit each tube. What a bummer of a Christmas this was for the Martin family as we hadn’t bought anything else for anyone. All they had was their filled up stockings.

But the kid’s Dad came to the rescue and wrote down the numbers from each broken tube and as soon as the stores opened he went into the Graves Drugstore on the west side of north Main and was able to buy every TV tube we needed. He came back home and replaced the burned out tubes and put in the new ones and PRESTO we had television to watch for Christmas.

I know it is hard to believe this but that was the way TVs were built back then and not every store closed even on Christmas. Totally different world 50 years ago.

Second-Hand Christmas Tree

(A Christmas memory by Gail and Clyde’s daughter, Virginia Allain)

Some families face a spartan Christmas, particularly if they are out of work. Thinking of that brought to mind a Christmas where the generosity of others saved our family from a bleak holiday.

cylde-and-cindy

An earlier Christmas in the Martin home – Cindy and Clyde. I’m sure Dad made the rocking horse in the picture.

My dad had been in a car accident and was hospitalized for almost six months. My mother was expecting and with five children to care for, she couldn’t go out and work. It looked like there would be few gifts and certainly, money couldn’t be wasted on a Christmas tree when there was barely food for the table.

When our school closed for the Christmas break, my fifth-grade teacher brought the tree from the classroom to our house. Also that week, some kind soul left a box filled with holiday foods on our front porch.

It must have been a frightening and sad time for my mother trying to cope with it all. I’m thankful that the second-hand tree and the food brought some Christmas spirit to our home that year.

When I shared this memory with my younger sister, Karen, she said,

“I would have been 5 that Christmas. Don’t remember any of those things! That was in the days when kids weren’t allowed to visit in the hospital, so I remember not seeing Dad for a long time. The father of another kid in the neighborhood was an over-the-road truck driver–I remember thinking maybe that’s what my Dad was doing since he was gone for so long.”

May Day Memories

(post by Virginia Allain) Did you get a May basket on your door knob today? I don’t know if this is mostly a mid-western custom or if it is more widespread. Growing up, we made May baskets to hang on the neighbors’ doorknob on May 1st. We filled these with spring flowers from our yard like lilacs or daffodils.

The baskets were crayon-decorated sheets of paper shaped into a cone with a paper loop attached for hanging. I’d assumed the custom had fallen by the wayside in these days of cell phones, non-stop television, and reduced neighborly interaction.

Tulip Garden PostcardPicture Credit: Tulip Garden Postcard

Surprisingly, I found it’s going strong in small Kansas towns, at least in my folks’ neighborhood. In sorting my mother’s writing room contents after her death, I found several May baskets with the names of her neighborhood children scrawled in colorful letters on them.

They obviously pleased Mom, as she hadn’t thrown them away. These had paper flowers and some artificial ones. I’m sure these made the day brighter for my mother, to see the old custom being continued. Happy May Day to all of you.

Happy May Day to all of you. Mark May 1st on next year’s calendar so you can help your children or grandchildren make their own may baskets to take to elderly neighbors.

One of the May baskets that Mom saved.

One of the May baskets that Mom saved.