Stephenson Tales

SOME DEPRESSION (but not depressing) MEMORIES

Dad used to say that he was glad that he was a teacher because no matter how bad times got, people always had to go to school. Sometime, however, it was difficult. I remember vividly one time at the end of the month I heard Dad say, "Well, Elm, we made it. I've got twenty-five cents left." Mom was a sorceress in the way she could stretch a meal. Before Dude was old enough to eat much "adult" food, she could make an entire meal for the four of us out of one pork chop! She would cut it right along the bone and divide the meat into three equal sections. She would take the bone and give Dad, Orlando, and me each a piece of the meat. After she had gnawed the little bits on the back side of the bone which were her portion, she would give Dude the bone to chew on and get the parts that remained clinging to it. From having fried the chop in bacon grease (kept in a Crisco can on the back of the stove) she would take any grease left over (now pork chop flavored) and make gravy for mashed potatoes--which we always had. Pork was cheap. As I recall ham was about ten cents a pound, as was bacon. Pork chops were about the same.

We took our old clothes and sent them to the Olsen Rug company where they were shredded and woven into oval rugs. It was always fun to get such a rug and identify cloth: "Oh, there are my corduroy knickers." "And there's Dad's old sweater, and the brown overcoat."

Since nobody in our family drank alcohol, we did not suffer any deprivation during prohibition (1919-1933) but some of our German neighbors on the west side did feel deprived. The poor man on the corner of Fourth and Madison drained the alcohol out of the little cans of "Canned heat." He went blind. Many brewed their own booze in the basement. Mr. Dupslaff's house always smelled wonderful. I never knew why until later.

Famous depression dishes Mom used to make: casseroles out of ANYTHING left over; ham studded with cloves; fried liver and onions in bacon grease; rice pudding; a kind of caramel custard which she gave me when I felt ill--and to this day, custard always makes me feel a little sick; scallopped potatoes with ham and cheese; baked navy beans with pork, onions, brown sugar, vinegar, salt and chopped bacon (are you noticing all the pork?); baked squash wth brown sugar and bacon, lots of canned macaroni, and turnip greens and salmon. Lots of baked potatoes. Not much beef - so it was a real treat when we had it, especially beef tongue which I still love! Mom used to make a fantastic meat loaf with pork and beef and ham mixed together--with a couple of strips of bacon (of course!) on the top, with about a cup of catsup poured over the whole thing. Pea soup, of course with diced ham, carrots, onions, cloves, garlic and onions--almost thick enough to eat with a fork! Often supper near the end of the month was cream of wheat, which I hated, and an egg fried in a piece of toast which I loved. Sometimes it was a diluted can of pepper pot soup. Pretty meager fare, often.

Lucy Chase said that with all this pork over the years my porcine aortic valve replacement must feel right at home! One must remember that at this time eggs were about 12 cents a dozen and bread was about eight cents a loaf.

Every once in a while, when Dad did not have a stack of papers or exams to read he wold suddenly say, "Jim Bob, let's go downtwn and do some window-shopping." How I love the memories of just Dad and me, going out the door, down Third to Jefferson, turning right to Ashley, left on Ashley past the railway station and up the hill then over one block to Main Street. We would saunter along Main street, passing the Wuerth Theatre, to Washington then cross the street looking in all the store windows. Sometimes Dad would say, "Let's go down and call on Mr. Preketes." He was the Greek "King" of the whole area--people took disputes to him and everybody agreed to abide by his adjudication--and he was also the owner of "The Sugar Bowl" a very fancy ice cream parlor. Mr. Preketes, apparently, never went home and would always invite Dad and me to "have a little something while you are here." He never expected to be paid for the cones--or even sundaes that he, personally scooped out for us. He and Dad would talk about police cases that I made no attempt to understand. Then Dad and I would walk all the way back on the other side of Main Street to Madison. On one corner was the fraternal lodge, the B.P.O.E. I asked him what that stood for and with a sly look he said, "Best People On Earth." I knew he was kidding of course. (Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks). I think I felt closer (and in a very special and different way) to my father than at any other time except when I was helping him work when he would say, "I want you to watch me closely and follow what I am doing, and when I hold out my hand, I want you to give me the next tool that I need." I never tired of this challenge as he gently (and almost secretly) taught me to do many things. We never bought anything--we were just "window shopping."

These were some of the joys of the depresion.

Composed on 22 December 2008; Transcribed by Robin

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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