Tag Archives: 1940’s

Saturday Night Shoes

via Daily Prompt: Buff

My parents were very strict about our preparations for Sunday. For Mamma, it meant we must cook all afternoon on Saturday and be sure everyone’s clothes were washed and ironed crisply and neatly. For Daddy, it meant shining shoes and buffing them to a fare thee well.

My shoes in 1946 were not little strappy things nor were they slide-ons or wedged heels. For little girls, as I was then, my shoes were usually brown leather oxfords with shoe laces. I wore them the rest of the week running and skipping up and down the hills of North Georgia, scarring rounded toes on roots and rocks. They became thoroughly scuffed by Saturday so it took a lot of energy to buff them to suit my Dad.

Dad would gather six or eight of us kids around him and provide one flat can of shoe polish to share and one polishing rag. He would supervise to begin with, then drift away to something more worthy of his time.

I can smell the shoe polish right this minute. It wasn’t a bad smell, in fact I really liked it, sort of an expectant smell, getting ready for something special. What I didn’t like was getting shoe wax on my fingers. Invariably, no matter how I tried, I ended up with that dark brown shoe polish under my fingernails. So then, even after an older sister scrubbed my hands raw, I’d still have ugly nails for going to church. I wondered sometimes which was worse, scuffed shoes or ugly nails.

After spreading the wax around the toe of a shoe, then along each side, you tackled the turn around the heel. If Daddy had disappeared by then, I was mighty tempted to skip the heel. Who would be looking at the heels of my shoes? Daddy would. Yes, if I dared to skip a heel, Daddy would certainly notice. He told us very firmly that heels were, in fact, more important than toes. If someone saw your toes shining but your heels looking dull, you would be known at once as a hypocrite.

I wasn’t sure, at the age of four or five, what a hypocrite was. But it certainly sounded very bad so I learned to go ahead and buff my shoes all the way around.

Polishing, or buffing, was the fun part. We competed with each other to see who could raise the most sparkling shine, whisking a soft cloth back and forth over the leather. My older brothers said I shouldn’t have any trouble buffing my shoes because they were so little, so much smaller than theirs. But by the end of winter, my shoes were so badly scarred I needed to polish them twice to get a good reflection in my toes.

Every year in September Mamma ordered our new shoes from either Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Wards. One year when I was about nine I had two horrible sores on my right foot, so bad that I couldn’t wear my new shoes. I loved new shoes so much that I begged to be able to wear just my left shoe. But Mamma said I’d wear one out faster that way, and Daddy said with a twinkle in his eyes that I’d end up with one leg shorter than the other. Anyway, the only thing good about having sores on my foot was that for a couple of weeks I didn’t have to buff my shoes.

When I was eleven Daddy lowered a terrible ultimatum on me. He said I could no longer go barefoot even in hottest summer. My feet, he said, deserved my taking care of them so that when I was a lady they would be pretty. Even now, I love to kick off my shoes and ramble the house barefoot. But no more running over the hills knocking nails off my toes on stones and roots.

I’m thankful my Daddy cared enough about all of us to teach us to take care of our shoes and our feet. I’m glad he taught me to shine my shoes until I could see myself in my toes. But I’m also glad he taught us to take special care of our heels and, philosophically, pointed us to the understanding that character is portrayed by what you do when no one is watching.





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Ramble Brook

Remember what it’s like to search for something rare and exquisite–and to find it? The treasure turns out to be not only what you were looking for but experiences during the search, sights and sounds, even echoes of another time. That’s how my walk with Charles to Ramble Brook hunting blue gentians turned out.

We walked up Tulip Hill at my home place, Pinedale, and spent some time in the lonely little cemetery before striking off through the woods toward Ramble Brook. I was intent on finding some, or at least one, blue gentian. Blue gentians grow on brook banks mainly, loving the moist mossy places. They present their beautiful closed blooms in October. Mamma used to send us looking for them this time of year. “They’re very shy,” she’d say. “That’s why they never fully open and simply peer into the brook looking like buds the color of the sky.” Of course we only reported when we found them. Mamma and Daddy both would have been aghast if we’d picked even one. Gentians were quite rare.

Our feet made the fluffy crisp tulip poplar leaves crackle and crunch. I could almost feel the wind in my hair when, as a child, I’d dash through these leaves racing to be the first one to find a blue gentian–or to jump the brook, or walk a foot log, or climb the one-armed oak tree.

The one-armed oak tree was a favorite climbing tree. It was a white oak that had grown on the banks of Ramble Brook. There were other limbs but the one we liked so much was as thick as a tree itself and had grown straight out from the tree only about ten feet from the ground. Once we climbed up we could sit dangling our legs singing like a chorus of birds. We little ones learned from the older ones how to swing off holding to the limb with both hands before dropping to the ground. Then up we’d go again.

Not far from that tree was a wonderful waterfall which was great for summer splashing. Ramble Brook was never a very big stream but was so cool and clear and full of interesting water-rounded stones. There were some mossy stones that were really fun to stand on while our feet dried after a good wading. The brook itself held great fascination for all of us–water lizards to catch and let go, minnows, crawfish (to observe digging themselves into soft silt), and even larger fish sometimes steering silver bodies under overhanging foliage. And, downstream from the log bridge, was another favorite spot: a bank of gooshy, moldable white clay.

We were happy for hours at a time creating bowls, jewelry, platters, and tiny tea cups out of that clay. Sometimes the drying process made our treasures crack and crumble but occasionally a dish, a cross, or a horse’s head would actually stay together for several days.

When walking now along Ramble Brook you can occasionally find little piles of selected water-worn stones near the brook. They’ll be almost buried in mountain asters and leaf mold. You wouldn’t realize, unless someone told you, that those piles of stones were actually collapsed castles of four very active siblings in late 1940’s and early 1950’s. We built them along the cliff near that clay bank and imagined the people who might live there, even planted little trees just the right size for these imaginary little folks. The residents would certainly enjoy a view of the water whispering by. But, sadly, when it rained, our castles all squatted, the clay going soggy, and the stones turning into a disorderly pile.

A good thing to do after playing in the clay was to build a dam. We cleaned all the sticky clay off our hands that way. We built most of our dams in Indian Brook which was beyond our schoolhouse cabin. But that meant walking a good distance with clay drying on our hands. So we did find places where Ramble Brook narrowed enough to make dam building possible. We’d pile big stones across the stream and back the water up to make a small lake. After playing in the deeper water for several minutes, we took joy in breaking the dam and watching the rush of current.

With the memory of our childish squeals in my ears, Charles and I walked onto a nice sturdy foot bridge made by some of our engineering nephews. From there I looked down the brook bed and discovered three treasured blue gentians, blooming bravely in spite of a long drought that has dried the brook so there’s no stream or even apparent drop of water.


October is often a time of drought and this year is no different. Ramble Brook has no merry murmur of water, no splashing waterfall, no water to dam or turn loose to the sound of children’s squeals. There’s no moisture to make the clay malleable. But there were the shy exquisite blue gentians anyway, treasures unbelievable, shining amongst dry brown leaves.

With Charles’ strong arm to help me, I slid and stumbled down the bank to reach those flowers. Though sometimes the gentians present four or five closed blooms on one stem, these only had one each. But the blue was as bright as I’d remembered, bright as a bluebird perched on a single bare limb. I took great pleasure in snapping some pictures.

But, as I said to begin with, finding the treasure was a thrill, but the good walk with my husband was really the best part. And all those memories of our good play times along Ramble Brook were wonderful, too. It was as if once again I were walking a log, climbing a tree, making pottery and catching water lizards. And I have pictures to remind me that, though I’m not so agile any more, blue gentians do still bloom along Ramble Brook.

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Buttermilk in a Sprite Bottle

We usually purchase buttermilk in a waxy carton or a plastic container. And it’s good, yes, it’s good. It’s good for restoring your system after a virus. It’s good for swallowing big clunky vitamins. It’s very good for baking. Buttermilk out of a wax carton, though, is nothing like the buttermilk we enjoyed, poured from a Sprite bottle.

My delight in buttermilk goes way back…

There was a favorite spot in Mamma’s kitchen in the 1940’s, a chair right beside the wood cook stove. If one of us ten children came in shivering from doing cold chores, we might get that seat in a cane bottomed chair for a short time but if it were churning day you could only sit there if you kept the paddle moving up and down in the big brown crockery churn. Once Mamma started the churning it had to be continued until the butter “came.”

First thing after breakfast on churning day Mamma scooted the brown churn up close to the stove to let the cream get warm and bubbly. The cream had been skimmed day by day from the milk until the crock was at least half full. The cat always stationed herself close by on churning day, certain there would be dollops of cream on the floor when we who weren’t in rhythm took over the churning.

It was mid morning before Mamma pronounced the cream “ripe” and ready to churn. It had to be just right and she knew exactly when that was. She hummed while she churned and I think that may have had something to do with her staying in perfect rhythm. The cat never got a drop while Mamma was churning. But when I grasped the handle and began pumping it up and down, splatters hit the floor and the cat went to licking. It took a minute for me to get a steady pace and even then I’d skip a beat now and then.

Even before I was allowed to churn, I hung around watching the fascinating process. I’d want Mamma to lift the lid and see if butter was forming yet but she would put me off saying she knew it wasn’t time. Sometimes she’d sing the “Butter Coming” song, an ad lib song that went something like this: “Come, butter, come; come, butter, come; Brenda’s at the garden gate waiting for a butter cake; come, butter, come; come, butter come.” The rhythm of that song matched the rhythm of the paddle thunking up and down, up and down. And the rhythm even now as I remember it gives me a sense of rightness and peace.

There was a difference in the sound of the thunking when the butter did “come.” It was a duller, heavier sound as the paddle hit nice islands of butter. Mamma instructed one of us to get her a large spoon and a bowl. We’d peer in the churn to see rich yellow butter floating in the buttermilk. Mamma dipped it out, then washed it in cold water, meaning she carefully worked the milk out of the butter as it coalesced into mounds of pure gold.

I loved to watch Mamma spoon the butter firmly into her butter mold as she held it upside down. She packed it and packed it and smoothed it evenly before turning each cake out on a saucer. Each butter cake had the embossed design of the mold on top, a beautiful flower and leaf.

Often, it seems to me, Mamma baked fresh hearty loaves of wheat bread on the same day she churned. The combination, fresh butter on warm bread, was almost too good to bear. Add some grape jelly and you’d be in heaven!

Now if there were more milk than we could take care of Mamma would start a batch of cottage cheese. She’d keep sour milk warm on the edge of the stove until it clotted, then strain it through a cloth for an hour or two until the beautiful white curds appeared like a snowy mountain. Nothing was wasted. Even the thin watery stuff strained from the cottage cheese (called whey) was placed outside for the birds to enjoy.

For supper quite often, we children lined up on a long bench where Mamma and her oldest girls could serve us–guess what?–buttermilk and bread. To use a line of awkward grammar, I never didn’t like buttermilk. I positively loved it!

Mamma gave her churn and butter mold to my younger sister Suzanne when she and Bill got married and bought their first cow. It was a good choice. Suzanne is the only one who milks a cow, warms a churn by the fire, then churns for an hour or however long it takes, then molds the butter cakes and even makes cottage cheese.

When we were at the Dovers’ they offered us buttermilk to take home. Suzanne assured me that the buttermilk would keep fine for our 300 mile trip even without a cooler. A butter cake would not fare so well so we went ahead and ate fresh bread with butter while we were there!

Suzanne looked around for something to put our buttermilk in. Her two-quart jars were all needed for her several milk customers. Spying a Sprite bottle in the recycle box, she grabbed that. We hoarded that buttermilk, rationing it to ourselves to make it last as long as possible. I’d forgotten just how wonderful “real” buttermilk is with tiny globs of butter in it. Now I’m spoiled for drinking that thin stuff that comes in waxy cartons. Give me thick buttery milk in a Sprite bottle any time!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:….Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:2,5



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