2008 Essays — Honorable Mention Back Then by Kelsey Lange

Can you imagine living in a time with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and sharing a bedroom with four or five siblings? If you ever think about it, we take advantage of the simple things in life such as this. Compared to back then, our lives are, for the most part, much easier. As I interviewed my grandma, I learned a lot about what it was like “back then.”

A small house and sixteen people; doesn’t sound like it would work, would it? This is how my grandma lived. With an amazing thirteen brothers and sisters, her, and her mom and dad, I would say that the Hayes house was pretty much packed with people. Ranging in age about twenty years from the oldest to youngest, I can guess that there was never a dull moment. But then again, how could there be? With helping on the farm, cooking, doing dishes, and fetching water, how could you really be bored? One lesson I gathered from my grandma is that most kids had to work a lot harder seventy years ago than they do now.

The entertainment they had was limited too. I’m not saying they did not have anything to do because as my grandma said, “We didn’t know of a life any different.” In other words, everyone lived like this. Some forms of entertainment for my grandma and her siblings included: cards games (Old Maid, Ucre, and Rum), kick the can—a simple game played with a normal soda can, going to square dances, and if they were lucky, riding the few bikes they all had to share. They also creatively found ways to make toys by putting together simple, everyday items, such as a button and a string. School, as you may imagine, was different too. My grandma attended two of her four years of high school at St. Mary of the Woods, which at the time, was both a high school and college. She paid for her tuition by serving the college girls—washing their dishes, washing their clothes, and cleaning their rooms. Instead of going back and forth from home to school, she lived there, like a dorm. Her following two years, she spent at Henryville High School. Between these two high schools, she took many of the basic high school classes that we take now. These classes included: Algebra, geometry, English, health, chemistry, United States and Indiana history, and bookkeeping, which is basically today’s business math classes, and physical education. She also managed to sneak in a couple of college courses while at St. Mary of the Woods to enhance her education, and because she did not plan to continue on to college.

As times have change, styles have changed too. The ever-popular poodle skirts, sweaters, and saddle shoes were big hits back in my grandma’s childhood. However, it was not as easy as going to JC Penney or Walmart and buying the clothes she wanted. If my grandma wanted new clothes, she or her mom often had to make them out of feed sacks from the farm or cotton they bought at the store and then sewed the material into a dress, shirt, or pants. It was not until my grandma was about ten years old that they began buying a few clothing items at the store. In addition, hairstyles, including the beehive, in which all the hair is neatly arranged in a high around shape directly on the top center of the head, were also popular. Now days, if people dressed or did their hair like this, people would definitely stare, but back then, this was a highly fashionable way of looking.

As they made their clothes at home, they also grew about all of their food on their eighty-acre farm or got their produce from the farm animals. From eggs, to vegetables, to wheat ground into flour, the Hayes family almost never went to the grocery store, except for a couple of items — coffee, sugar, and kerosene for the lamps. With the lack of electricity, this was their way of lighting up the house. The meals at home almost always consisted of some kind of pork, potatoes, fruit or vegetables, and a biscuit or cornbread. Items such as bologna, store-bought bread, and Coke were considered to some as a “delicacy,” and going out to eat was either extremely rare, or never.

My grandma’s main message of the interview was the differences of her childhood compared to a typical childhood in the present. By reading this, one can see that was very much different from today and filled with a lot more responsibility. As my grandma said, “Kids didn’t have it as easy as they do now days.” From the chores to the clothing, life has definitely changed from the past to now.