Category Archives: homemade clothes

One Christmas during the Depression

Standard

My Mom was reminiscing about the period of time called the Depression

in the United States. She was remembering with fondness one of her

favorite Christmases. It was not one she received a lot of gifts nor a “big

ticket” item. It was all about how each of her family members worked

very hard to listen to what the others in the family were wishing for

and then, how they tried to make each other’s dreams come true.

My Mom wished for a lovely red velveteen jumper that would be

worn to school and church. She had already a special cream colored

blouse that her mother, my grandmother had stitched lovingly for

her “back to school” outfit. She did not need the black tights nor the

boots to wear with this special outfit that she had seen in a major

department store advertisement.

My Mom heard her younger sister wishing for a special matching

outfit for her doll and she to wear to early elementary school. We

may call it the ‘primary grades’ these days. She wanted to be able to

bring her old doll, all “spruced up” in a green corduroy or (“even

better,” Mom recalls, “a green satin dress with a ruffle attached.”)

My grandmother heard my grandfather wishing to have a nice hearty

meal with a roast of some kind and also, wishing for a cherry flavored

tobacco to put into his pipe.

My grandfather heard my grandmother wishing for a nice tablecloth

and a new apron, that would not be made by herself. She liked to

get dressed for Sunday services and afterwards, head home to wear

a pretty apron over her ‘Sunday best’ clothes.

My aunt heard my Mom’s wish and it was all about hair bows and a nice

mirror and brush set, seen at the Five and Dime Store in Middletown,

Ohio.

When her family awakened on Christmas morning, often the Christmas

tree, while my Mom and her sister were sleeping and young, would be

decorated. This was a tradition that changed when they got older and

what my Mom felt was more responsible and would not break the lovely

glass ornaments nor set the house on fire with the candles that were

placed upon the tree in their holders.

The years they did get to decorate, as older and more careful girls, they

had many glass ornaments, pipe cleaner angels with faces painted on

pink beads and golden or silver pipe cleaner wings and halos. There

were wooden ornaments of snowflakes, sleds and little houses, too.

Mom exclaimed,

“Amy and I were never again to see the candles lit on the tree, once we

became the ‘decorators of the tree.’ Sometime, along the way, my Dad

decided to invest in electrical multi-colored Christmas lights.”

Mom, known as “Rosie,” and her sister, Amelia, known as “Amy” woke

up on one Christmas morning to smell the nice, wafting and intermingling

scents of a braided kuchen with cherry filling and vanilla frosting, the cherry

tobacco smell of their father’s pipe and the smell of strong coffee floating on

the air. I have researched the recipes for kuchen and they often list

peach as the fruit to be found inside this sweet yeast dough coffee cake.

My grandparents grew only a few plants on their property, but there

were several cherry trees to pick and ‘can’ for later use. We often

would have cherry preserve, my brothers and I almost thirty years

after this story is written, on our breakfast toast. We also enjoyed the

treat of fresh out of the oven, German made kuchen.

They ran down their hallway, wearing thick pajamas, robes, socks and

shoes, as they did not have slippers and the floors were not very warm

inside. Amy and Rosie paused to take in the wondrous sight of a fully

decorated and mysteriously “delivered” Christmas tree! It was not until

after they began to doubt in the reality of Santa Claus, that they realized

this was a parental gift to them, as well as the gifts in their stuffed stockings

and few wrapped parcels under the tree.

Mom mentioned while retelling this story to me, that the presents would be

wrapped in fabric scraps from “future items of clothing, so as not to ruin the

surprises inside, tied with ribbons or string. This was also, during this period

of time, another way to save money: very cost effective.”

In the presents, usually in past years of the Depression, there would be

“practical” gifts of sweaters, socks, mittens and other handmade items.

Grandma Mattson could knit, crochet and sew, as many women of these

hard times did, to make things look special. The challenge would be to hide

it in the process of making the items!

Mom said the stockings were stuffed with unshelled nuts, fruits and wax

-wrapped candies and fudge. There would be a pair of socks and a hair

barrette inside, too. She says while recalling the joyous moments, that she

never thought until this moment, while I was asking her for some Christmas

memories, of all the hours her mother must have spent while her sister and

she were at school, making and hiding these ‘treasures.’

All the gifts that were wished for, the wishes were ‘granted’ this year! She

wore her red velveteen dress to school, her sister, Amy, wore her green,

shiny satin dress with the petticoat trimmed in lace underneath it. Mom

remembers her sister twirling and twirling in circles in the excitement of

wearing her brand new (homemade with love) dress. She also, recalls

that the both of them wore these dresses in a photograph, where they

both have black hose on, with big sister Rosie, straddling little sister,

Amy, in front of her. The two of them, wearing the bright dresses now

displayed in the framed black and white photograph on my Mom’s

dresser,  look so completely darling!

The roast for dinner was pork and the after dinner desserts were Spritz

and other sugar cookies served with cocoa and coffee. The lasting effect

of everyone’s wishes coming unexpectedly true was apparent once again,

relived today on my Mom’s glowing face!