Life was simpler in the south during the post World War II era. Women returned to their homes, after working in the factories during the war years, once the fighting men came back. The women were free to do the everyday duties that wives and mothers were supposed to tend to; having a home cooked meal on table when their husbands arrived home from work, and keeping their homes neat and tidy.
They wore their flowered dresses with a dainty apron; going about their housework and caring for the children without complaint.
Summers were lazy and slow paced due to the temperatures that soared towards a hundred degrees mid-day. Few working class people could afford the luxury of air conditioners.
Everyone had a least one large shade tree to escape to while watching their child swing on a tire strung up on a limb of that same tree. The smell of honeysuckle vines and gardenias wafted on small puffs of wind that came few and far between.
Women took great pride in their azaleas and rose gardens; making sure they were watered in the early morning and again in the evening as the sun went down. Laundry was done in wringer washing machines and hung on the clothesline to be freshened and dried by the sun.
Children played outside until it became too dark to see anymore and their bodies bore the color of a rich cameral candy; made slightly darker with the grime and the dirt that stuck to their skin after a day of playing. Baths were drawn and they emerged still tanned, but two shades lighter than they’d been minutes before.
It was a time of dragonflies, lightening bugs and building playhouses and forts in the edge of the woods. No child’s face appeared on milk cartons back then; and few people even bothered to lock their doors.
Trips to grandma’s house on the weekends meant having more children to play with as cousins arrived. My mother had nine brothers and sisters, so there were more than a two dozen kids there every Sunday.They were expected to stay outdoors while the adults talked inside; of things not meant to be heard by small ears. War stories; hard times, and occasionally gossip about someone in the community who was having an affair seemed to be conversation among them.
On a table in the screened in back porch sat a galvanized bucket filled with water that came from the pump in the front yard. There was a long metal dipper to drink from. Of course you might have to dip a fly out of the water occassionaly before drinking.
There was no running water in grandma's house and the bathroom was a small buliding in the backyard. It usually had a big wasp nest on the inside next to the door, which made "going" a bit scary. Instead of toilet paper, there was a thick Sears & Roebuck catalog on the floor.
On those Sundays the women would congregate in the kitchen around the large table; while the men all sat in the living room with the screen door open in case a breeze happened by.
The women all brought their favorite recipes and at lunch time the men would be summoned to the table to eat. After they finished; the women and children would have their turn at the table. There would be dishes like fried chicken, homemade bread, corn bread, a variety of vegetables; creamed potatoes and pecan pie or coconut cake for dessert.
The children would then return to their play; perhaps going down to the shallow stream down the hill and dip their feet in the cool water. Amusement and fun were so easily discovered by children back then. It was rare to hear a child say that they were bored. There was always one that could think of a new game to play or find a new secret place in the woods that only they knew about. On the way back home my brother, sister and I would sleep in the back seat, tired from a day of playing.
The wives would starch and iron the husband’s clothes to make sure he looked his best when going out to earn a living. His appearance directly reflected on her ability as a wife; and she took much pride in that fact. It was the same for her children; they had the best clothes that could be afforded; even if it meant she herself wore the same dresses for several years.
Because the father was away from the home during the week; it was up to the mother to teach her children manners and values that would set them on the path to success as they became adults.
They were taught “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir.” Never to call an adult by his or her first name, and always to say “please and thank you”; failing to remember these pleasantries could result in a trip behind the wood shed for a reminder. A fresh green hickory switch makes for a better memory the next time.
Children were taught to show respect for their elders. They were to be seen and not heard whenever two adults were in conversation; and if a child should utter a swear word they swiftly had their mouths washed out with soap. The taste of soap lingers for a long while as I can attest to.
A mother’s role back in those days was an important one and she took it very seriously. It was not the father who would bear the blame if the child grew up less than a good citizen.
She taught many lessons and encouraged her children to read and learn the scriptures as a foundation for them to build on later in life.
She would tell the fable of the dogwood tree when the child brought her a branch of blooms for her favorite vase.
“You know the story goes that the dogwood tree once grew tall and straight. But when Jesus was nailed to the cross made of the dogwood tree, God proclaimed that no dogwood tree would ever be used again for crucifying. He marked the tip of the petals with blood and formed them into four petals in the shape of the cross. From that day forward dogwood trees grew up with gnarled trunks, unable to be made into crosses to nail men to.”
Southern women had many fables to draw from and used them to teach her children. Some were frightening and meant to keep the child out of mischief. A few told stories of children who disobeyed their parents and were gobbled up by the pond monster or my personal favorite; if you tell a lie your tongue will begin to shrink until you can no longer speak. I spent many sleepless nights worrying about that one.
Children were more gullible back then. They were also more innocent and respectful. It was a wonderful time to be alive; to be a child.
Even the adults seemed to enjoy life more back then. Sitting on the front porch sipping iced tea and fanning the heat away with paper fans attached to a large handle that looked like an oversized ice cream stick. They took time to smell the sweetness of the rose garden and be grateful for what they had.
Worries over money were shared by most of their neighbors and friends, and there was some solace in knowing they were all in the same boat. They were there for each other in times of need; raising a new barn, or bringing fresh vegetables from their garden to help stretch the grocery budgets of friends and family alike.
If there was a death in the community; money offerings were taken within the community and presented to the surviving family members to help them with the initial financial burdens. Not done as charity, but as a statement of caring and being a part of a whole in the community of humanity.
It wasn’t an easy life back then, but it was wonderful in so many ways. The tall longleaf pines offered a perch for children to look down from and survey in innocent wonder the life that lay below them.
Magnolias fragrant blossoms; the bright colors of the azaleas, and the freedom, to be a child for a little while longer, was the promise of the beautiful summers in the south.
© Copyright 2016 Ava Rosien. All rights reserved.