159/365 days of blogging.
I had the privilege of having one of the most admirable men in the world as my father. Not growing up, because my own father was absent from my life, even though he lived in the same house for the first 14 years of my life, but as an adult. Leo Jackson was a fine man. An admirable one. At the age of almost 90 he had a very hard time understanding the teens of this day and age. I sat down and interviewed him once for a paper I was writing in college. Here is that paper.
“Teenagers have no respect,” Leo Jackson said as we sat in the old porch swing discussing old times. I interviewed this man, who is in his eighties, about his childhood and adolescents, and what he thought the differences were between then and teenagers of today. For him it seemed only like it was yesterday.
As I listened to stories of working on the farm and a venture into town was a weekend treat, I wondered, what it would have been like to be a teenager 75 years ago.
“I remember when I was hired by the Phillips brothers, who were very prosperous farmers, to haul hay. They didn’t have machines to bail the hay, so they stacked it loose in a hay stacker. This was like a large wagon with high sides. Then they took it to the barn and with a rope and pulley the horse would pull it up in the barn. We worked from sunrise to sunset and we were paid one dollar per day.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Well that was back when 10 cents would buy most anything. Two bottles of pop, a loaf of bread, two ice cream cones. Gasoline was eight cents per gallon. We used to strap a fifty gallon drum on the front of our car and fill it up. That would last about two weekends.”
Only the rich kids were allowed to attend high school. He lived 10 miles from town and couldn’t afford to go to school. The majority of kids didn’t get to go to high school. If they weren’t rich, they only way they got to go was if they had relatives that lived in town. They would stay with them during the week while attending school and then return home on the farm to work for the weekend. Books were not provided for the kids back then. Everyone had to pay for their own books. If the kids wanted to go to school they worked after school and on the weekends to pay for their own books. There were 10 children in Leo’s family and his parents couldn’t afford to send all of them. “It didn’t make any difference if kids attended high school or not back then because they didn’t really need to. They taught the same things to the children in eighth grade that most kids learn in high school today. It was strictly the basics. Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Now they have so many other classes that they don’t need and then there is that computer stuff. To me they just make everything so complicated.” Leo very proudly finished the eighth grade. He was just 14.
Another thing Leo said there was a difference in were the clothes kids wear. “The clothes fit you then. Not this hanging between your knees, half off their body jeans. Or mismatched shirts and pants. Most of the boys wore overalls. Boys today don’t even like to be called boys, let alone be caught dead in overalls. All of our shirts were made of feed sacks.” He explained that the grain they fed their animals on the farm with came in printed material sacks. One of his friends came to school one day with a shirt on that had a rooster right in the middle of his back. “You can imagine what his nickname was from that point on.” The dress was casual. They wore what they had. “Our clothes didn’t have holes in the either. If they did mom patched them up. All in all kids just weren’t concerned with fashion or the way they looked.”
Dating was different then too. Kids today think about nothing but being alone. “Back then everybody went out together. I never even went on my first date alone with a girl until I was seventeen. She was eighteen. Why if a boy even tried to put his arm around a girl or on her leg, he would get a very abrupt slap in the face. Those were just things you didn’t do unless they were engaged to be married.” most of what they did were in groups. Things like square dancing or riding around in his “girly car.” A model A with a rumble seat. If you wanted to attract the girls, he said that was the car to have. In his day, as he called it, you weren’t required to have a driver’s license. They just drove wherever and whenever they wanted. He started driving tractors and farm machinery on the farm when he was a very small boy. “Now kids talk at the age of 15 about getting their permit. I think they should have to wait longer than that.” Leo did finally have to get his license, once the law was passed that required him to. He was twenty-five.
I asked him what his friends used to do in their spare time. He laughed and said “We didn’t have spare time unless our work and chores were done. And sometimes that took until dark. The we had homework and things to do around the house.” He continued by explaining that when they weren’t in school, they were usually working on the farm. Their work consisted of helping farm crops, feeding animals preparing food for storage for the winter.
Some of the ways they preserved food I found fascinating. For instance; They used to dig a big hole in the ground and line the bottom of it with saw dust. Then they would put a layer of straw, then a layer of apples. They would follow that with another layer of say dust, straw, apples, and when the hole was full, they would cover it with dirt. This would preserve the apples for the winter. “You’ve heard the old saying, an apple for the teacher, well in the winter the teachers weren’t married and didn’t have a family to go home to so they were usually none to sad to stay with someone just for the company.”
He also explained that they grew most of their own food. They only bought things like sugar, flour, beans, and an occasional piece of candy. Everything else they raised on the farm. They had cows for milk, chickens for eggs, cattle and hogs for meat, and then of course they grew their own vegetables in the garden. They canned all summer to have food in the winter. If they couldn’t can what meat they had, they salt cured it. This was done by salting the meat down, hanging in the smoke house and using hickory wood to dry it. They went to town about twice per month to buy only those basic things, and only went then because they had cream and eggs to sell.
I asked what he saw were the main differences between then and now. He replied, “Families were more close knit back in my day. We had trying times as a family, such as loosing crops or not having a good crop, but all in all families stuck together because that is what they were supposed to do. By families, I mean a whole community of families. On Sunday afternoons we would take turns having dinner at each others houses. In the summer time it would be like one big block party. Kinda pot luck, by that I mean everyone would bring enough food to feed their family and we would play made up games like roll the hoop, drop the handkerchief, kick the can, duck duck goose, baseball, and square dancing. We loved to square dance. Families would come from miles around just to join in the festivities.”
But the main differences that he cited, and I quote, “Teenagers used to start at the bottom of the ladder and work up. Now they start at the top and have nothing to work for. I often wonder if everything is handed to our children on a silver platter, with no questions asked, how we as parents can expect our children to treat others with respect. If we don’t teach respect, how can they develop it?”
I miss Leo more than words can say. I miss his stories, his presence in my mother’s life, but most of all I miss having a dad. And that was what he was…my dad.