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Nostalgia July 2015

As I Recall...

Life After the Wars

By Jerry L. Ginther

Waste, no matter how small was not tolerated. Grandma was still boiling her coffee grounds twice in the ‘50s and scolding her grandchildren for not drinking all of their milk. “Waste causes want,” she would tell us.

Pain and poverty are always products of war. Daily necessities are in short supply or nonexistent. Hunger and disease are often constant companions during and in the aftermath. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is sometimes unseen for years. These were the realities often reflected in the stories we hear and read about in the accounts of our ancestors.

My grandparents on both sides of the family were born 20 to 30 years after the Civil War. They lived through two world wars, the Great Depression and the Korean War, but the one thing they talked about the most was surviving the Depression years.

My parents were both born shortly after the turn of the century; my dad in 1904 and mother in 1910. They, too, remembered the struggles of those infamous years. Their accounts of those hard times helped me to appreciate how those struggles affected their lives going forward. The lessons they learned about thrift and survival were so arduous that they continued to practice and teach them to their children and grandchildren even when times were much improved. Today, I’m thankful for the lessons that my grandmother, and others of that era, tried to impart to my generation.

After the World War II, improvements in the infrastructure started to appear in our little town. As a first or second grader, I remember watching as the city crews cut deep trenches in the intersecting streets in front of my grandparents’ home to lay gas mains. Another trench was dug from the new gas main to the west side of Grandma’s house where a gas meter was installed. Then, new appliances began to appear in the old house.

The first modern appliance I remember coming into the kitchen was an electric percolator for making coffee. That eliminated the need to build a fire if you just wanted coffee. However, bacon and eggs or pancakes still required a fire. Maybe that is why they got up so early and fixed breakfast before the sun came up, especially during the summer months.

About that same time water was hooked up to the house and indoor plumbing became a reality. They no longer had to carry water from the pump that was located just a few feet from the back door. Prior to gas and water being piped to the house, water had to be heated on a coal-fired, cook stove in the kitchen. In summer or winter a fire had to be built in that stove for cooking meals, making coffee or heating water to do laundry. On Monday morning a big brass boiler was placed on the stove and filled with water for the old Maytag wringer washer.

Other new, modern appliances were quickly added: a large kitchen sink with hot and cold water faucets, a hot water heater, a gas range, bathtub, toilet and lavatory. However, the Maytag and the cook stove remained as well as the coal stove in the living room. Their thinking was that you just never know when the gas would go off like the electricity did and you would need to build a fire.

Finally, they removed the heating stove from the living room after installing a gas furnace in the basement. That was centralized heating, but still no air conditioning. Then a funny thing happened. The first time the electricity went off, the thermostat for the furnace ceased to work and Grandma was quick to say, “See, I knew it would happen. I told you we should never have gotten rid of the stove.” Of course she didn’t realize that the gas supply had not failed, that it was the electricity that had failed again.

Earlier I mentioned the lessons learned by the folks who went through the years of The Great Depression and how it affected the rest of their lives philosophically. Waste, no matter how small was not tolerated. Grandma was still boiling her coffee grounds twice in the ‘50s and scolding her grandchildren for not drinking all of their milk. “Waste causes want,” she would tell us. She, and many others of her day, never fully recovered from those harsh years and continued to live as though they were near penniless even when the times were much better. I suspect that no matter where the children of pre WW II parents lived, they, likewise, heard the same stories and were taught the consequences of being wasteful.


Jerry Ginther grew up in Sullivan Illinois, with a few brief departures over the years. He is the author of Acquiring the Benefits of Biblical Wisdom, available in e-book format on He and his wife reside in Texas.


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