My grandmother lived during the Great Depression. We loved hearing her reminisce about the hard times but always reverently encompassed in the love her dad gave his 5 children. My great grandfather lost his wife (my great grandmother) two weeks after their youngest child was born due to scarlet fever. Great Grandfather was left with 5 children to raise ranging in age from 2 weeks to 7 years. My grandmother was second to the oldest and the only daughter. I can still hear her tell us how they were quarantined at the time of their mother’s funeral due to the scarlet fever in their home and watched from their living room window as their mother’s casket passed in the funeral procession on its way to the cemetery.
My great grandfather never remarried. My grandmother, being the only daughter, did much of the housework. If the kids ever dared complain of school she would gently remind us how lucky they were to go to school. She cried when as a sophomore in high school her dad needed her at home and she no longer could attend school.
Times were lean during the Great Depression so scrimping and saving and reusing everything possible was a way of life. Today people still love to save money and reduce waste through clever DIY projects but in those days “doing it yourself” wasn’t a trend; it was a necessity.
In those difficult times, if women wanted to provide for their families, they had to get creative–especially when it came to clothing.
During the 1930’s flour sacks featured colorful patterns for women to make dresses. Innovative and desperate, women often emptied the sacks and used the fabric to make clothing. When flour manufacturers saw women turning their flour sacks into clothing, diapers, dish cloths, and more, they started packing their flour in pretty patterns. And it wasn’t just children. Women made dresses for themselves out of the bags as well. Whether in the kitchen or helping my grandfather outdoors, my grandmother wore these dresses she sewed from feed sacks!
When the clothing finally wore out, after being passed down from older sibling to youngest, my grandmother cut the salvageable pieces and made them into quilts. There are stories and memories in every square. My mother can still look at some of the quilt pieces and see her mother wearing that particular dress or recognize pieces in the quilts from clothing she wore as a child.
There are many ways to keep one’s ancestors alive. Pictures speak volumes, stories especially when recorded in an ancestor’s voice are treasures, videos are priceless, and many other ways. Yet the one that speaks to me every night is the quilt that covers my bed with warmth and memories in each lovingly sewed square. Some amazing bedtime stories are told to great grandchildren as they too snuggle in their great grandmother’s handiwork.
My grandmother passed away in 2012 –appropriately on the first day of spring. It was a gorgeous bright day in Ghent Minnesota as we gathered around her grave site. The viewing at the funeral home was arrayed with grandmother’s handiwork-jars of home canned fruits and vegetables on a table covered with one of her treasured quilts. A tribute to her life of giving and sharing.