There have been times others have asked why my parents owned such a wide assortment of old photos. Some date back to the 1800s. I would agree to the oddness of the situation. Maybe it would be more fun to describe their collection of photos as ‘eccentric’ rather than odd.
My parents were known for their interest in history and were members of several local historical societies. When other families wanted to share photos, they knew my mother was someone who was interested. She was a writer and put photos and stories about others in the newspaper. What a grand idea.
I have high hopes that in a year from now my family’s inheritance of photos will have made their way from assorted boxes to photo albums or back to wherever I feel they should go. Oh the plans we make.
Their collection of old photos reveals how fashion trends change over the years. I can’t help but point out there was a time when hair styles and clothing somehow added to physical beauty. You can almost feel the charm jump off some of the pictures.
What if we were to go back to those ways? Wouldn’t it be strange to walk into a big box store and there would be no pajama pants in sight?
How about we declare a National Girls Wear A Dress Day, and we shall invite our friends over for lunch. Women everywhere will greet their guests at the door. A pretty apron tied at the waist. And pearls around the neck – a must.
My friends who were young in the 1940s and 50s tell me they wore dresses nearly every day, and because they did not own a lot of clothes, they wore aprons to protect their dresses.
Last spring, one of my columns included a picture of my mother with Pauline Stark Hammond and a third lady we asked for help in identifying. At first glance, it appears they are wearing knickers, but after examining the photo closer, they have rolled their pants up. Their hairstyles are fairly carefree, and even their shirts are cute. There is a barn in the background, and it appears there are apples in their bushel baskets.
Do you suppose it was the father of one of these three who decided the girls were looking awfully cute and needed to take some time out to pose for a photo?
After their picture was published in May of 2020, we learned from Eleanor Herman the third friend is Juanita Wehrle Herman, who is the daughter of Ambrose and Viola Wehrle. I have found many notes and greeting cards from Juanita. Now I have a face to go with the name.
Juanita’s niece, Phyllis, also contacted the Earth office to let us know the lady on the left is indeed her Aunt Juanita who now resides in Massachusetts.
Our family photos are in black-and-white until 1969 when my oldest brother Ed purchased a camera and began using color film. Oh the clothes we wore back then – lots of little dresses through the 1960s and slacks appeared in the 1970s.
Although I have never worn a kitchen apron, I have at least one thing in common with Maxine Sanders: We both know what it’s like to meet a deadline for a newspaper column. My column is published every other week, but Maxine’s recipe column, Magic Moments, was published weekly in the Edgerton Earth newspaper. She told me there were many Sunday evenings that rolled around quickly, and she wondered what she was going to write.
Maxine will be celebrating her 97th birthday on October 24th, so you know she has made many meals for many people over the years.
I found a few of her recipe columns and decided to share one of them here. In an undated column, she wrote:
“Last week a friend of my sister Margaret asked her to have me put her recipe for butterscotch pie in my column. You guessed it. She cooks the same way I do! Nevertheless here is Margaret’s recipe:
One chunk of butter; three egg yolks; two handfuls of brown sugar; some milk; some flour and water; a little salt.
Melt sugar and butter in a heavy pan. Cook for about five minutes. Mixture should brown but be careful it doesn’t scorch.
Remove it from heat and add milk. Let it stand until sugar dissolves. Moisten flour with water (as if you were making gravy). Add three egg yolks to flour and water. Stir this in milk and sugar and bring to a boil. Let cool and put in baked pie shell.
For the less experienced cook we translated these amounts of ingredients to read:
½ stick butter
3 egg yolks
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
2 cups milk
½ cup flour
½ cup water
Following is a bona fide cook book recipe for meringue which she uses: Cook together until thick and clear: 1 Tbsp of corn starch, 6 Tbsp sugar, and ½ cup water. Cool slightly. Beat 3 egg whites with mixer until frothy. Continue beating while adding cornstarch mixture. Beat 5 minutes. Spread on cooled pie filling and bake at 450 for five to seven minutes.
To all of the above recipes you may want to add two short prayers and a pinch of magic. I’m sure you have heard of the pilot who flies by the seat of his pants. Well, that is the way I cook!
When I was 16, God saw a need for my mother to be in heaven and took her suddenly after a very brief illness at age 41. This left me as the oldest girl at home to prepare food for my father, two sisters, and three brothers. Now this was back when you really cooked. There were no frozen meat pies and pizza – not even hamburger helper.
Our farm home had a Delco plant for lights only, no refrigerator, a gasoline engine in the washing machine and a wood range in the kitchen. A good portion of what I cooked was the way I thought I had seen my mother do it! Some turned out good, some not so good.
Back then a Sunday chicken dinner didn’t mean heating it in the microwave oven. Can you imagine me and my two sisters, age 11 and 12, trying to dress two chickens like we thought Mom had done it?”
After reading Maxine’s words about losing her mother when she was 16 years old – I couldn’t help but think how life had changed for the family. Not only were young children experiencing the loss of their mother, they needed to figure out how to come together and manage their home.
Today’s cooks know the convenience of walking a few steps to the refrigerator to obtain the eggs they will be using. Long ago someone from the household had to walk to the chicken coop and gather the eggs in a wire basket. The eggs were then stored at room temperature.
Most likely there was a kitchen drawer full of aprons that Maxine and her little sisters could choose from in order to protect their dresses, and my guess is they quickly mastered the art of baking bread for the family.
Although a bagged loaf of bread available today is convenient, those who know what homemade bread tastes like may chuckle at the catchphrase “The best thing since sliced bread.”
Obviously Maxine and her sisters were given a great start and were living proof children can step up to the plate – or should I say stove? And learn, and grow, and teach others.
When the generations before us talk about how life is today, they often start their sentence with the word “nowadays.” It may be safe to say they know it would be difficult for families to function nowadays without the availability of processed food.
“Homesteading” and “permaculture” are modern day terms that describe ways of sustaining life on our own. It’s great to see many are returning to those traditions and values and finding themselves learning, right along with their children, how it is a garden grows. And how it is a rooster crows.
Is it possible children could teach adults that aprons are not just aprons? Children are full of energy and imagination. Certainly these youngsters can feel the superpower an apron provides. Perhaps they know what an apron really is – a cape, on backwards.
© Marlene Oxender 2021