It always amazes me how content people were with how little they had, before technology and almost luxury with so much money and possessions. Using a luxury I take for granted, I called my mom’s mother and asked her about how it was like before advanced technology. She started by telling me, “I don’t mean to depict hard times, that was just the way it was. We were never poor, we had more than most people, though we had to work hard for all that we had.”
My grandma was born in 1938, still in the Great Depression, up in the small town of Rosemary, Alberta in rural Canada. She still lives in Canada, though now she’s closer to the border in Cardston, Alberta. She continued, “When I was born, us kids we lived on a farm. We didn’t have indoor plumbing. We got our first phone when I was around twelve…and when I wanted to go to town I would have to ride a horse because we didn’t have a car when I was born. In fact, when my mother was ready to come home after a delivery, the doctor would come pick her up and drive her home from the nearest hospital twenty miles away. Because the hospital, and a doctor for that matter, were so far away without a car I almost never went to the doctor. I think the only three times I visited the doctor was when I needed to get stitches because I was hit in the face by a bat, I got my tonsils out, and I had scarlet fever for three weeks and needed a shot.”
My grandma told me many things about her childhood, but another fact that shocked me was her clothes. “Well, my mother taught me how to sew because I hadn’t bought any clothes until I was fourteen. There were almost no stores nearby, so my mom made all our clothes, dresses mostly. I only had one pair of jeans growing up, so every Saturday we would wash those pants in our gas washer that we were lucky to have. Most people had to do it by hand with a washboard.” I was enthralled. Her independence and ability to make everything she needed herself made me slightly jealous. I feel like people in my generation have lost that.
My grandma moved onto the topic of school, “Everything was paper and pencil. Notes, everything. There were not a lot of options for school, and not many extra things like there are now. There was no choir, no band, no art- we studied mostly reading, math, and geography. I rode a school bus to school and back…at recess we would play ball and oh- my, school didn’t have a gym at first. So there was one hallway where we would set up a ping-pong table and play that in the winter. That’s how I got so good and eventually went on to become the High School Ping-Pong Champion.
I also remember in the winter we had no thermostat. We used coal and sawdust from the mill close by to heat the house. We would come after school and the house would be freezing, so we would try to warm it up for dinner when everyone would get together and eat fruits and vegetables grown from our big garden. You basically grew what you ate. We almost never went to the store for groceries because we had eggs and milk on our farm and you made bread at home. I remember it was really something at Christmas when we made candy, a big treat!”
Listening to all these memories made me extremely grateful for everything I had, especially the fact we never have to worry about money. My grandma spoke a little about that, “When I was eleven there were potato farms where we would all go and collect the potatoes in gunny sacks for money. I think I broke the record and made six dollars one day, and I think that was a twelve-hour day. Over the summer we worked picking green beans and made around three cents a pound, but my first job was babysitting for 25 cents.
My first real job was at Safeway where I think I started for 85 cents an hour. I paid for everything myself – books, and everything. It’s not that my mom and dad were cruel, but they just didn’t have anything.”
I wondered how they communicated, so I posed the question. She quickly answered. “When Wayne and I first started courting, we called each other only once I think because it cost 50 cents to phone! Instead, we would write letters to each other all the time.”
Wayne is my grandfather on my mother’s side. My mom is the fifth of nine children and my dad comes from a family of eight children; both farmers. I knew that life couldn’t have been all hard, so I asked Grandma what she did for fun. She told me, “We had a good, simple, hardworking life with a cat and a dog. Some fun things we did were annual town dances, but one of my favorites was – because we didn’t have pools – we would go swim with the neighbors in irrigation ditches over the summer. Oh! I remember we went to a movie once, Cinderella I think, going to town on our family bicycle or horseback.”
I have now realized how amazing a woman my grandma is. One of the last things she told me that put my life into perspective was, “There’s not a thing I want or need,” She wakes up and turns up the heat, turns on the washer and dishwasher, and gets in her car. “Every day I look around and say, ‘I’m living in luxury!’”
Submitted by Bailey, Age 14