Making do during the depression

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There were so many ways that we followed the instructions: “ Use it up, wear it out; make it do or do without.” Those were the words we lived by during the Great Depression, and later they were used by President Roosevelt to have us practice during the war years.

Toothpaste was available but most people did not have the money to buy it. My mother mixed salt and soda to use as a toothpaste. It worked, removed stains and made a pleasant look to your smile, but it tasted horrible.

To darken eyebrows there was mascara available but no money, and so it was that somebody figured out that a burnt match would color the eyebrows. It might take two or three burnt matches but it worked.

Ribbon Cane syrup that was locally made was a cheap sweetener for some cakes such as gingerbread, syrup cake and spice cake. It was cheaper than sugar. And of course during the war sugar was rationed.

Men rolled their own cigarettes and found that some dried leaves made a substitute tobacco if they could not afford tobacco.

Hair washed in rainwater was softer, and a little vinegar in the final rinse made the hair shine even if it did give a sort of red tint.

Ladies could not afford to go to the beauty parlors on a weekly basis. At about thirteen I had about three regular customers that paid me a quarter to set water waves and pin curls in their hair. There was a “goop” that was green and thick and sold in a bottle that some ladies used to make the curl stay in better. I think it was called “Green Wave.” We boiled linseed and the result was a thick substance that made the curls stay in better on my mother’s hair.

White gasoline would clean dresses that could not be washed.

A biscuit would polish patent leather shoes almost as well as a bought shoe polish.

Some coffee came in paper bags with a metal strip that was folded under to keep the coffee fresh.

That strip made good hair curlers. Just roll the hair on the strip and fold the ends under.
Certain brands of oatmeal had a small dish inside each box, such as a bowl or a saucer. Tea leaves were sold in pretty glasses that had several gold bands around them. They made a pretty table setting.

Farm families had plenty of pretty feed sacks to make dresses and shirts from. The flour sacks and grits sacks were white and underwear could be make from them. Mrs. Tersia Corder of Ringgold send me the cutest poem about clothes made from feed sacks. I am printing it at the close of this article. Thanks, Mrs. Corder.

We substituted, improvised and did lots of things to try to cope with what we did not have. I have written of my attempt to use green tissue paper instead of waxed paper to drop my divinity on. Folks, it did not work!!!

The local bakery that was located in downtown Minden sold day old bread for a nickel a loaf., but what if you did not have that nickel?

Ladies laid a piece of corrugated metal roofing across two saw horses and made a place to dry fruit such as apples and peaches. Later in the winter the dried fruit would make good pies.

Cornmeal cooked into a mush made a satisfactory breakfast cereal resembling Cream of Wheat or Grits at a fraction of the cost.

There were many things used as medicine for some ailments. A chest cold could be helped with a few drops of turpentine on a spoon of sugar. That helped the congestion and a flannel cloth covered with Vicks Salve and heated did, too. It was pinned to your night clothes.
The roots of the Sassafras tree, boiled and made into a tea was considered a “blood purifier” each spring. And it tasted good!!!

Sunlight was a good bleach for white bed linens, and tea leaves made a good dye to make something ecru in color.

Some families inherited money, and some families had businesses that provided a good living, but for the rest of America we worked for a pittance and had to substitute and make do.

I can remember being sent to the store, even as early as six years old while we still lived in Shreveport, for a couple of items of groceries. My mother gave me the money to pay for them. She told me if the change that I received back included a penny, I could use that penny for a piece of candy. Often it did include a penny, and oh! the choices you had with a penny. There were many different candies and gum that cost just a penny. You might choose a sucker, or a piece of bubble gum, a big stick of peppermint candy, or a piece of taffy. My, but it was so hard to choose how to spend that penny. How happy I was when the change included that penny. It never occurred to me to use part of a nickel of the change. I tried to do what my mother told me to do. Precious memories.

And today I have such a thankful heart for all the things that God has blessed me with, necessities that I did not have as I grew up. And still I can say “Precious Memories.”

Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.

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