From the book about Southwestern Virginia

The Way We Did "Green"

Submitted by Joan W. Doak of Tazewell, Virginia

Born 1944



     I was born at home in 1944 during the World War II era. Because items were scarce and my parents had endured the days of The Great Depression, we saved everything. We recycled. We probably were in the beginning stages of Green energy, and just didn’t know it. I was a weekend farm girl who lived in town during the week. We went to our grandparents on weekends for fresh eggs, produce, and meats. We never threw away “good stuff” and recycled clothing between friends who outgrew their clothing. I was given at least three new pairs of shoes per year: good sturdy leather school shoes, patent leather dress Mary Janes, and some summer sandals, or whatever the fashion was for that year (tennis shoes later on.) The shoes were also fitted with some “growing room” to make them last longer. (We placed cotton in the toes for a better fit.) School shoes had to be polished every Saturday, and we used the inside of a breakfast biscuit to polish the dress patent leather shoes!

       In addition to a new baby doll, I always had new winter pajamas under the Christmas tree with fuzzy house shoes and robe that had to last until spring! My mother stitched and hemmed skirts, lowering the hems as I grew, and setting the buttons over in the waists, whenever needed. I was delighted with new clothes, but was equally pleased with “hand me downs” that had been lovingly cared for by an older friend’s mother. I remembered that I once wore a pleated wool skirt that had traveled through four girls and was the last to wear it. I loved it, because I loved the friends who had worn it before me! (We were fortunate that our father was part owner of a dry clean shop, so we had clothes picked up and cleaned on a weekly basis.)

      A new winter wool coat was an investment! It had to be selected with care because it had to “match” everything we wore and still be stylish for many seasons, even if it got shorter and shorter. A raincoat was a luxury coat. We didn’t have many of those! We always had wool hats and gloves to wear during cold days, and of course, those rubber galoshes for rainy or snowy days to tug over the school shoes. When weather got warmer, we had the traditional white cardigan sweater that matched everything.

      We had to endure a hot breakfast every morning whether we wanted it or not. Biscuits or toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, or sausage, and homemade strawberry preserves were waiting every morning. For lunch, we took a brown paper bag lunch, which included a sandwich (usually tuna salad), apple or another fruit, and a cookie. For drink, we used the water fountain at school. I didn’t realize that I was being penalized for being “poor” because that’s what everybody did for lunch. I guess we were being green? Occasionally, I was given a quarter to purchase my most favorite food for lunch—a hot dog! Newman’s Restaurant faced the North Tazewell Elementary School, and for 25 cents, I could purchase a hot dog (with chili) for 10 cents, Rhythm Punch grape pop, five cents, potato chips, five cents, and ice cream for five cents. I was a happy child with this lunch. Most of the time I purchased a Popsicle so I could share it with a friend. Great lunch. As for the brown bags, they also served as “luggage” when we spent the night with a friend. They were also great storage bags.

      My mother washed every Monday, rain or shine, using a grey Maytag wringer washer. Of course, the clothes were hung outside on a line to dry or all over the house if it rained! Those clothes must be washed on Monday! (Green energy again!) Tuesday was ironing day! Every Monday, we also endured the traditional pinto beans, cornbread, slaw or homemade kraut and wieners for dinner. Nothing else could be cooked on Monday! About twice a week, a fruit cobbler (apple, cherry, or blackberry) was baked. If we had ice cream, it was always soft, because our refrigerator with icebox didn’t freeze well, so the ice cream was never hard. For snacks, we had fruits and, a large bag of potato chips (25 cent bag) to last the week, and carton of six Royal Crown Cola, to last two weeks. The sodas were a treat, and we always shared a bottle when we were permitted to drink them. We always had a pitcher of Kool-Aid for an evening drink, or chocolate milk (we added Hershey’s syrup). The milk was delivered in glass bottles. Guess we were green again! If we were thirsty, during the day, there was an aluminum cup with handle at the sink. We all drank out of that cup that was washed with breakfast dishes, lunch dishes, and supper dishes, so it was always “clean” for all of us to use! Forget the germs. We were probably immune to them, anyway.

      We went to the doctor when all home remedies failed. For bronchitis, it was whiskey and honey or rock candy and mustard plasters. For boils and infected wounds, ichthammol (black salve) was used and Cloverine Salve for rashes. Turpentine wrap was used for a sprained ankle. Ginger tea was used for upset stomach. A country doctor who made house calls would be contacted if it were an absolute emergency and no transportation available to get patient to doctor’s office. This doctor also delivered babies at home. No Emergency Rooms were available. We made do with what we had, and improvised for what we didn’t have.

      We walked to school, unless it was raining, then we were taken to school and picked up afterwards. Since we lived on a hill, we walked the steps that connected the house to the sidewalk. Green again! Our mailbox was at the sidewalk, so we traversed those steps, frequently. We didn’t need a treadmill, or YMCA workouts. We used our own energy, powered by our own feet and legs. As you can see, I was raised “Green” but just didn’t know it. Since we burned our trash, we didn’t over fill the landfill with those hated plastics, because we had no plastics.

      These are some of my memories of a post-war little girl. I don’t think I need to make excuses for not abiding by the “new thinking,” as they are just now catching up with the way I was raised, anyway. Green Energy was, and is, part of my life. Today’s society thinks that this is a new form of life!

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