Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The past is a foreign country

(Click on photo to enlarge).


Writing about these - mostly- infant deaths has been on my mind all day. Those I wrote about belonged to Sheffield, but countless others like them are part of the history of all of us. In my family, one of my g. grandmothers had three children under 5. Within the space of a week they died - two on the same day. I should imagine it was Scarlet Fever or Diptheria - I have never had the heart to send for the death certificates. That would bring reality too close. How did she cope? It was 8 years before she had another child, my g. grandfather. She had another two children, one of whom died, or was killed, in his early 20s. Someone on a family history forum had actually seen the gravestone recording these childhood deaths (the family must have saved for years to afford it), and they said it was the saddest thing they had ever seen. She asked to be buried with her children, and was.

Then I think back to my late mother-in-law, whose father had died on the Somme in WWI, and her mother was left to bring up 4 children under 6, and work full time in a laundry till 10 o'clock at night, leaving the youngest children with an elderly lady to look after them. This elderly lady was so poor that when the few hens she kept in her back yard started laying eggs without shells - either because they were so old or lacked grit - she could not afford to replace them - or buy eggs. This same lady, when her varicose veins burst, couldn't afford to call in the Dr. I think of my mother-in-law telling me they had bread and margerine for dinner and "Pan 'aggy" for tea - potatoes fried in bacon fat, and when the end of the week came round, sometimes it just had to be "kettle broth" - which was a little bread, with salt and pepper and steeped in boiling water from the kettle. That is not a great step from those Sheffield families.

I think of my g.g. grandfather and his brothers who had to carry on working as agricultural labourers until they were so infirm they could no longer do so, and then the Workhouse stared them in the face. Then there were their children, who were sent out to work in service or living in on a farm, so they had better nourishment and there were less mouths to feed at home. Is it any wonder so many families emigrated when they had the chance?

I was brought up in an age where make-do-and-mend was essential. There was no "keeping up with the Jones" because the Jones had no more than you! We used leftovers, never threw any food away, I was used to hand-me-downs, and we shopped for clothes at Jumble Sales as often as not, or there was always the "Club Book". We went blackberrying, used all the fruit which grew in our garden - not as some people I know, can't be bothered to pick it and let it rot on the ground and buy apples from Tesco. It was the norm for people to have a few chickens in the back garden, and to grow their own vegetables. Mum went shopping with a string bag, had a copper and not a washing machine, and leftover meat was kept in a meatsafe in the larder. Sometimes I feel quite old . . .

In these days of conspicuous consumption, when footballers buy a perfectly decent house and tear it down to build something they deem grand enough for them; when one man who was mentioned in the newspapers only ever wears brand new straight-from-the-packet underpants and them throws them away after one wearing; when people get into debt to live lifestyles like the celebrities they read about in the papers; when women spend more on makeup in a day than my dad earned in a fortnight back in the 70s, I wonder about this flaw in mankind: this desire to outdo; this repetition of Potlatch ceremonies once carried out by Native American Indians when they burned blankets and traded belongings to show that they were so wealthy and important they just didn't need them. They do say, there's nowt as queer as folk . . .

4 comments:

LBP said...

Jennie, My husband and I were just talking about this subject yesterday. Great minds think alike! I too grew up with "make do, do over, or do without". I wonder what would happen if this generation had to live through the depression? I once asked my great aunt how her family survived the depression. Her answer was "I didn't know there was one". Her family was so poor that there was no money anyway. They were rich in the fact that they lived in a small paid for home, raised their own food, and lived frugally.
Great subject.
Blessings
Linda

Betty said...

We live in a throw away society sadly but I'm thankful I do know how to make do, make over and live within our means....grateful for what the good Lord has blessed us with....

I enjoyed my visit...Happy Easter...Betty

MammyT said...

Social commentary from the Bovey Belle? Yes, Jennie. And I'm sure that the tradition of frugality is much more prevalent where you are. You would probably be appalled if you were to come here. Sometimes we have no choice but to throw it away because it was no good to begin with. It has become difficult to buy real quality. That's why we restore old things and make so much of our own. I'll have to post my T Shirt design again. It's a protest against "made in China". I don't shop at Walmart, anyway. That's like a religion with me.
Nancy

Bovey Belle said...

I do occasionally put my head above the parapet, but I really can't stand waste - having been brought up with counting the pennies, I am content with small things bringing pleasure - usually a book or a plant for the garden. I get really irate with the stupid people you see on tv programmes sometimes - like the lass who had a boyfriend who was a footballer and she bought fruit just "for show" and never to eat - when bananas, for instance, ripened, they were thrown away and replaced with new "perfect" ones. A friend's m-in-law who has a roast every Sunday and throws what remains of the joint in the bin... The likes of Elton John who insists on "fresh" flowers every day. Some ethnic women on tv who bought household stuff on their credit card each week, got it home, changed their minds, and then put it out with the rubbish! Ooh - it gets my dander up just thinking about it!