I just came across a line from a hit country song by Miranda Lambert, “It all just seemed so good the way we had it. Back before everything became automatic.” It takes me back to the days of my youth, growing up without all the technology and instant gratification that we have today. I’ll bet there are still a lot of you who can identify with this.
As kids growing up in the country near Watson, Missouri, just a few miles south of here, my brother and I only had a few shows we looked forward to on TV, and that was a black and white TV, until I was 12 years old. They were Saturday Morning Cartoons, “Hee Haw” on Saturday night, and the Wonderful World of Disney Movie on Sunday evening. I’ll never forget how awestruck I was when I saw Tinker Bell flying around Cinderella’s Castle or seeing the NBC Peacock for the first time in COLOR! It was totally amazing to me, all those colors where I’d always just seen black and white before! We may all have watched TV a little more when we first got the color set, but the call of the great outdoors and our mom telling us to “go outside and play” was a much stronger incentive to turn off the TV and hit the ground running for a grand adventure outside our front door. There were hills to climb and creeks to wade in, fish and lightening bugs to catch, and of course we had to play cowboys and Indians, with me always being the Indian who got roped and tied up!
I remember our weekly trip to Rock Port, the bigger town a few miles away where I attended school. I’d get a quarter to spend on candy if I’d been good all week, and if my folks had it to spare. I’d take an hour trying to figure out how to stretch it the farthest on penny candy at the Places department store, which we called the Dime Store for some reason. I always got some of the sour Jolly Rancher candy, (green apple was my favorite), so I could share one with my dad and tell him it wasn’t sour just to see the look on his face when he put it in his mouth and found out it was! It was years before I finally figured out that he already knew and just made those faces to hear me laugh. Sometimes our little town of Watson with a population 100 or so (counting dogs & cats) would show a movie on the side of a building that had been painted white next to an empty lot. We’d all take an old blanket to put on the ground and sit there eating popcorn with our neighbors, swatting mosquitoes and watching our version of a drive-in movie.
There was a small gas station in Watson where the owner always gave us the hardest pieces of Double Bubble gum I’ve ever had, but we’d wallow it around in our mouth til it softened up and thought it was the best treat in the world, seeing who could blow the biggest bubbles all the way home. That station also had a big Coca-Cola refrigerated cooler that held about 6 inches of water that was ice cold where the glass bottles of soda chilled til we had a nickle to buy one. Cream Soda was my favorite. It had a blue label and was dark brown in color with a creamy foam on top when you shook it, the best Cream Soda I’ve ever had! You had to use the bottle cap opener built right into the front of the cooler, no twist-off caps or plastic bottles for us. There was also a tall glass candy display case near the pop cooler with Chick-o-Sticks, Bit-o-Honey, and Salt-Water Taffy wrapped in wax paper amongst other candies that you don’t see on the shelves much anymore. Our dad would sit in the front part of the station talking to the other men there while we picked out our candy and pop, all for about 10 cents each.
We had “fried bologna” sandwiches once in awhile back then, but only when Dad was working long hours and hadn’t had time to go hunting, so our meat supply was low. Usually, it was fried squirrel, rabbit, or venison from the deer he’d shot the previous fall along with fried or mashed potatoes and thick white pan gravy made with flour and milk. Now and then, we’d have some fresh sliced tomatoes or sweet corn on the cob when they were in season. On Sundays, sometimes we’d go have fried chicken at Grandma’s house, one she’d raised, butchered and cleaned herself fried up fresh from the barnyard, and Mom would bring along a homemade Oatmeal Spice Cake with Coconut Topping for dessert. (Recipe below)
In August, we’d order our school clothes from the Sears catalog that would get us thru the school year. We got a new coat when we either outgrew or wore out our old one. If another family with older kids gave us hand-me-downs, we were grateful and happy to wear them.
People didn’t depend on the government so much back then. Our parents worked hard and made do with what they could afford. I’d never heard of a credit card til I was in high school. You just didn’t spend money you didn’t have. At least, we didn’t. If times were lean, you made do without some things. I suppose we may have been poor, but I never felt poor and all my friends were in the same boat, so the subject just never came up. Family, neighbors, and churches helped out the ones who needed assistance most of the time in those years before all the government programs came along.
We didn’t go around asking for hand-outs, and we had pride in who we were and the work we did, no matter how humble. I cut weeds out of beans, put up hay, and did some babysitting when I was a teenager to earn some money. One summer, I helped Dad plant, hoe, and sell 80 hills of watermelons. Another time, I raised two pigs, runts of the litter that I sold and paid Dad back for their feed. After high school, we hunted raccoons before it became politically incorrect to buy and sell fur, and made $2,000 that winter, half of which was mine from walking the hills and hollers of the county most of the fall and winter, carrying those hides on my back, listening for the sound of Ol’ Red and Banjo hitting a trail and treeing another masked bandit. That money helped me when I went to the bank to take out my first loan to buy a car. All those experiences taught me a lot about hard work, profit and loss, and helped me immensely in the years since then in managing a household and my Avon business.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the ease of ordering online and receiving packages at my back door without having to step outside. I can’t imagine living without the AC when it’s 90 degrees in the shade. I’ve made many friends and connected with people from around the world thru Facebook, and I believe social media serves some great purposes from finding a long lost relative or high school classmate to raising money to fight diseases. But when we rely on so many things that are “automatic” these days, we lose so many wonderful things that we used to have to work a little harder for, and we lose that sense of pride in our accomplishments. We lose personal contact with our friends and the people we love because we are constantly sending texts on our cell phones. How long has it been since you’ve actually saw the face or heard the voice of the people on your “friends” or “contacts” lists? I worry about the generations after us that will never know what it’s like to “earn” a living and will be content to just live a life of quiet desperation, never really understanding what they’ve missed out on. Those of us who do remember need to pray that God will guide them and return this country to one our forefathers would be proud to call home, one that celebrates the simple life we grew up in here on the back roads!
Oatmeal Spice Cake with Coconut Topping
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
½ granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
½ cup shortening
1 cup water
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9x2 pan. Measure all ingredients except topping into large mixer bowl. Blend ½ minute on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.
Bake 35-40 minutes on until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Spread topping (below) over cake.
Set oven control at broil and/or 550 dgrees. Place cake 3 inches from heat. Broil 2-3 minutes or until topping is golden brown.
1/4 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup flaked coconut
½ cup chopped pecans
3 T light cream
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and follow instructions above.