“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” ~Proverbs 22:6
“Your basic extended family today includes your ex-husband or -wife, your ex’s new mate, your new mate, possibly your new mate’s ex and any new mate that your new mate’s ex has acquired.” ~Delia Ephron
Managing Editor Kaleigh Wotring asked for a column on families for this edition of the ECHO. I usually write on history, not on social issues, genealogy, or marriage counseling. But I do have a family that now consists of a wife and 29 offspring and off-spouses covering four generations.
And I am very proud of each and every one of them. They are loving and loved and lead good lives. They are witty and intelligent. But, they are individuals and have opinions of their own. Thankfully, they also have tact and avoid arguing their opposing views—at least in the presence of Mema, my bride.
As the quotations prefacing this item indicate, views and social mores have changed drastically over the centuries. During my 87 years on this planet, quite a lot of those changes have been experienced.
Many rural homes did not have electricity in 1930, and kerosene lamps were widely used. Indoor plumbing was a convenience not yet generally available. Toilet tissue not being cheap, a Sears and Roebuck catalog was a ready substitute—and provided an educational distraction from the activity at hand. Heating water for the family’s Saturday night bath was a chore, with the age-related pecking order for bathers strictly followed. Rare indeed was the family who did not turn out for Sunday School and worship services the next morning.
Conversation was polite, although correctness in speech as then practiced was social rather than political as now. Had there been television, a lot of what we see now would have been unthinkable. Uncovered bodies between shoulders and knees were taboo. A woman was not pregnant but “expecting”—with any children within earshot left not knowing exactly what in the world to what she might have been looking forward.
The absence of television and the Internet may have been a blessing.
n the days of old, Father was the breadwinner and Mother was left to care for the kids. The axiom “Man works from sun to sun while woman’s work is never done” was the rule. The family sat down to supper together amidst discussion of daily activities and lessons learned; little about the state of the world was allowed. After the dishes were washed and dried, the radio might have been turned on to hear Amos & Andy, Fibber McGee & Molly or the Fred Allen Show. The 30-minute shows often would be followed by games of Bingo, Monopoly or one of several card games—provided the kids’ homework was done. Reading was encouraged, and youngsters often went to sleep listening to stories from the Little Golden Books.
A Sunday afternoon drive was a luxury, often involving a picnic and a dip in the lake or river on a warm day. During the Depression of the 30’s it was a luxury not always available even though gasoline was only 25 cents a gallon. That amount, by the way, would buy a small model toy car for a pre-teen boy or a paper doll with cutout clothes for a girl.
Lest you might think those prices low enough to allow one to stock up on toys, it must be pointed out that all things are relative. The owner of a printing firm where I worked after school pointed out that while a hamburger cost only a nickel, there were many days when he had to skip lunch because there was not a nickel to spare.
Despite the harsh economic climate, children of the Depression did not know how bad it was.
They played with whatever was available and used their imaginations to expand their boundaries. If they didn’t know what they lacked, how could they miss it?
Economic conditions improved in the 1940s due to the buildup for World War II. But that conflict brought hardships of its own. Blacked-out windows to avoid attracting enemy bombers left neighborhoods dark. Visiting or going out in the evenings was discouraged not only by the darkness but by rationing of gasoline. Items not essential to the war effort were in short supply, doled out carefully.
It was after that conflict that things underwent rapid change. Returning servicemen found that the women who took jobs to aid the war effort were reluctant to give up that income—as well as the feeling of independence they had gained. Five years of separation and a scant few marriages resulted in a rash of unions (and the inevitable Baby Boom).
A multitude of new families brought about a need for more housing.
Subdivisions sprang up around the country. The newly acquired abodes were accompanied by mortgages. To help make the payments, women remained in the workforce while their husbands found employment in new industries that opened.
American ingenuity had been called upon to create new equipment in connection with the war. That ingenuity then was directed to the future. Automobile production had been stopped and the manufacturers turned their attention to replacing cars worn out by five years of wear and tear.
Household goods were in great demand and there was a huge push to meet that demand with newer designs. Efficiency, looks, and price were the new norm. Progress through growth was the name of the game. Prosperity followed.
Progress and prosperity brought changes in the American family.
Mom and Dad now both worked. There was less time for family activities. Children were affected by other influences on their development.
That’s a reflection on families of the past. To go farther would put this observer in the position of opining into a realm beyond his credentials. Obvious is that things are very different than they were years ago. Whether one is better than the other is up for debate, with no ready answer.
In one view, the “good old days” were not so good after all. From another perspective, their quality of life is to be envied.
Let’s just say families live differently today. We can enjoy the many benefits of today’s situation. We can work to improve any shortcomings that we might see as existing.
This writer is happy with his family and glad they get along well.
Some of his acquaintances’ don’t. That’s not bragging, just fact. He would like for everyone to enjoy a loving family life. It’s the greatest feeling ever.
He thanks the Creator for a wonderful life.
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com.