Oh Grandma, You’re Kidding: Memories of 75 Years in the Great Plains, by Gladys S. Douglass ISBN 9780934904001
Four out of five stars
The years covered in this autobiography of living in Eastern Nebraska are from roughly 1910 until the 1960’s. The author was born in 1901 and grew up in Lincoln, before the time of the Big Red football team. It is a history of slow social change, specifically the introduction of modern conveniences.
As it begins, they have an outhouse and some access to electricity, but nothing like the later completely wired homes. Cooking was done on stoves with roaring fires and lighting was done by kerosene lamps. Few people have been around them, I have and can attest to how they smoke, smell and really don’t put out that much light. When I was young my paternal grandparents still lived in a house with no electricity and no running water.
The author describes the act of spring cleaning and how it was such a major operation, much of the gunk that was removed was the residue of heating over the winter. Like children everywhere, they had fun playing and even when working, even though they often went without. Clothing was patched, re-patched and worn by the generations until the fabric simply fell apart. Since nearly all children wore patched clothing first worn by an older child, no one was ridiculed for what they wore.
The social mores of politeness, rigid rules regarding the interaction between the genders and the clothing worn by both sexes are explained. The author once muses on how it was possible for girls to get pregnant when they were so closely monitored and regulated.
This is a story that was repeated millions of times across the midwestern United States from roughly 1850 until 1950. Women were educated in the ways of keeping a house in order, growing up proper and then bearing and raising children. Many watched at least one child succumb to a disease when the only effective response to a major illness was a quarantine. It is an interesting story of a time that has passed. Looking back, life was hard back then, yet it is difficult not to feel nostalgia for such times of relative simplicity and a slower pace. Specifically not having to commute.