Guest blogger G.M.C. Massey describes the rigors of rural life in the 1880’s.
At that time, we had very little conveniences and nothing of the modern way of living. My mother did all of her cooking on the fireplace, and it was the same fireplace that we all had to use to keep ourselves warm. We roasted sweet potatoes and eggs in the hot embers and also roasting ears. We had no coal, but an abundance of wood. We had potracks in the chimney that were used to boil the vegetables in pots that hung on the potracks during the morning hours, and a big oven that they cooked bread by getting the oven hot and then putting the biscuit dough or the corncake dough into it. Then the lid over that with the hot coals over that. The results were the best bread that you have stuck your tooth in. We had then the very best eating that anyone had ever had since.
But it was very trying on the mothers of that time who had all of this to do while it was in the way of the ones that bathed themselves in indolence about the fireside. Many times that I can remember my father was the victim of a wrenched back for he was improving a new farm and the loads that he sometimes had to take were entirely too much for a man to carry by himself. When one of these cases turned up, it was sometimes weeks before he could navigate to any advantage. He would bake his back to the fireside by lying before the fire at first and later by sitting straddle of a chair with his back to the fire.
Mother had to make all of our clothes – shirts, coats, pants, and even our socks and gloves. She did all her sewing on her fingers as were not able to afford a sewing machine. I remember the first time that she had an opportunity to buy one. A machine agent came to our place and he was a local man. He knew us very well and he offered to take some cattle in on the machine. I offered to put my only yearling in on it at $5.00 and my father had three or four head that he put in. We owed about $40 on it to be paid that fall. I was twelve years of age, so before that time my mother had to do all of her sewing on her fingers, and she made all of our clothes, our under clothes, our shirts, our pants, evens Father’s pants as well as all of the bedclothes, even our socks, her stockings, our gloves and if I have missed anything, she made that, too. To cap it all off, she even carded the wool and the cotton and spun it into thread that she knitted into our socks and what have you.Don’t think that I missed out on any of that for I learned to do all of that as well as she could, but not as fast. I was sixteen years of age when I got my first ready made shirt and pants. The next year, I got my first ready made suit.
We were so poor that we didn’t have biscuit for breakfast (unless company came), only on Sunday morning. I had to carry cornbread to school for lunch and that just killed my soul. Then and there, I promised myself that if I ever married, I would have biscuit for every breakfast if I wanted it, and for any other meal, too.