Making do or doing without

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

Some of us who are “elderly” observe the ways of younger generations or different upbringings and try to restrain ourselves from rolling eyes and shaking heads. And I know they do the same with us. Our years after age 60 are often called the “Golden Years,” but there is no gold — only years! Most of us might agree that the golden years were those before whatever age it suddenly hit you that your life was your own responsibility.

In our youth, household chores were expected from a family member enjoying the provisions of a “roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table.” I am prompted to think of others, now and especially in the long past, who had only those basics, and perhaps none in good shape. Education was minimal, and life’s jobs were hard. As I read my dad’s writings about his formative years, I am still awed by his determination to have a better chance in life regardless of sacrifices. He included his times from childhood living in a log cabin in the hills on a subsistence farm with an outhouse and a cold, clear spring with “sweet” water.

Farm chores existed every day. His dad might cast bullets from melted lead for his muzzle-loading gun. Horse equipment needed to be repaired or made. Wood troughs were made from hollow logs. Gates needed replacing, plow blades sharpened, animals marked, chairs re-bottomed, fencerows cleared. Women’s duties were, of course, sewing, quilting, spinning yarn, cooking and cleaning. Lye soap was made for cleaning and laundering. Butter was churned often and kept in a jar in the springhouse along with milk and eggs.

Raising food was everyone’s chore if they wanted grandmother’s “choked” biscuits or crusty cornbread with crackling crumbs. Fried pies and fruit or tomato cobbler were among desserts. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts and all other planted foodstuffs were grown and consumed in summer and canned or stored in the underground cellar for winter. Hams hung in the smokehouse after the hog-killing season. The only “store-boughten” ingredients were spices, sugar, flour, corn meal, vinegar and grits.

Dad finished high school in Imboden (Lawrence County) at the Sloan-Hendrix Academy, a local affiliate of Hendrix College. For two years, he walked three miles to and from school each school day, and he would sometimes be late so he could explore the deep woods and cedar glades, with frogs peeping and Pileated Woodpeckers drilling. He taught there following graduation, meeting a new student of “classic beauty” in 1921.

In that year, he decided to go to the University of Arkansas, making trips by rail, hopping box cars or coal tenders from the northeast corner of the state to the northwest corner. The latter car was an unexpected mistake, discovered when it went through a tunnel and covered him with smoke and soot.

Dad returned home in 1923 and the “classic beauty,” my mother, had graduated and applied to teach. They began dating, and dad continued his studies during the summers. They were married in 1925, and he graduated in 1929. It is not known even yet who paid his tuition. I’m still amazed that an unknown person also sacrificed because of his faith in dad’s drive and interest.

Regardless of hard times and inconveniences, he would earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, lacking only a few hours to obtain his doctorate. As a soil scientist and botanist, he preferred being in the fields instead of behind a desk. Those deep woods and cedar glades had their effect.

To bring this story forward a little, I will mention that my husband, Gerald, lived a similar life until about 1966. Living “up the road” in Naylor, his family life was similar. No running water, an outhouse 50 feet from the home and cooling provided by floor fans. Heat was provided only in the living room, first by a wood-burning stove bought at Massey Hardware, then a gas heater. Things improved when his mother bought electric blankets.

Gerald picked cotton for $3 per 100 pounds of picked-clean cotton and $2.50 per pound if still in the boll. He saved up to buy school jeans that cost $3 a pair. At age 18, he got his first job at Chamberlain School Furniture and made a monumental $1.15 an hour! Even with gasoline at 28¢ a gallon, a “Show Bus” transported locals into Conway on Saturdays. The bus fare, a movie, a Coke and popcorn totaled $2 and was well worth the work.

Sometimes people ask if a completed education in whatever form, whether formal or trade-related, is worth it. Yes, for many reasons. Pride in making the commitment; preparedness and willingness to make a living; and wisdom to exercise God-given intelligence and common sense.

Oh, and being able to pay for the roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table.

Vivian Lawson Hogue
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