In honor of Mother’s Day I’d like to post not a recipe today, but a few memories about Gram supplied by my mom (Gramma A), who is Gram’s daughter. When my mother was born in the 30s, the United States was not only in the grips of the Great Depression, but families were still fairly self reliant in terms of raising gardens. Some folks kept chickens and cows depending on where they lived. Mom grew up in Erie, PA in what a lot of us might call a traditional Eastern-style home. It had a basement, first and second floor with front and back stairs, and an attic. There were both a front porch and a back porch, and a separate garage behind the house. All of this was on a large piece of land which abutted an alley. Their street, West 9th, was lined with large trees, I believe maple and elm. I hope that sets the stage for you. So, here are some of my mom’s thoughts about this housewife of the mid-twentieth century.
For as long as I can remember, Gram always had a large garden in the back yard. Some of it was flowers, just now the first daffodils would be blooming and she would have some of them picked and in the house. There were lots of other varieties too – roses, tulips, asters, something blooming all summer long. Then there was a small grassy area. Behind that at the rear of the property she had the vegetable garden. On one side were two rows of asparagus, which is a perennial and comes early in spring. Then she would also plant green beans, carrots, onions, beets, tomatoes, and other things which I can’t really remember. Then of course there were the cherry trees (2 of them), the pear tree and the apple tree which was just outside the back door. At one time there was a peach tree too, but it got old and gnarly and had to be removed. Directly behind the garage was rhubarb. I would say 90 percent of the produce went into canning jars and jellies and jams. She was an extremely busy lady. On top of these things she would go out in the country and find the best prices on berries, eggs, etc. (And several times a week she would bake the bread.) All this in addition to laundry, cleaning, volunteering at church and dance club on Friday nights (maybe only once a month I think.)
Then came WWII. Residents of Erie were offered plots of ground in the outskirts of town to plant – in a war effort to grow your own veggies. Everything was scarce and at times rationed. This is when Grandpa got into the “farming” business. He took one or two plots and there planted corn, more varities of beans, strawberries – I can’t remember all the items. Then one year for Christmas Uncle Ed [Selden] deeded him 20 acres at Swanville, which was part of the Selden family holdings. He gave up the other acreage (maybe it was because the war ended.) There he sunk a well, cultivated several acres with more “truck”. He did plant potatoes, strawberries, corn, and lots of other things. At the back of the property he planted several fruit trees – just to try – and raspberries both red and black – the hand-pump well was used to keep things watered when there was not enough rain. He went out several times a week – after dinner – to tend the garden. Of course it stayed light until almost 9:30 in the summer so there was plenty of time.
My grandparents were resourceful and creative people. Clearly they took advantage of the resources around them! They also made pottery, Grandpa made wine, Gram was a home sewist, knitter, and home maker. To all the mothers and daughters out there, find the Gram in you today and celebrate who you are!