August, a Week before School Starts

“There’s nothing to do. I’m bored.”

“Find something to do.”

“But what?”

“Figure it out yourself.”

Damn, the woman was actually giving me answers, but I was too young to get it. In fact, I didn’t get it until just this minute.

“C’mon, Mom. I wanna’ DO something?”

“Then DO something, honey. I’m not standing in your way. Your room is full of books and toys, things I never had growing up.”

What she HAD instead were sisters and animals and chores. Even now I can see the advantages to that. I didn’t want to hear the litany of pain that was my mother’s childhood in the Great Depression, though LATER when I could do the MATH I realized she was 10 or 12 when the Great Depression hit the plains of Montana. They were just plain out, simply put, too-many-kids poor. Their depression was real but it wasn’t “Great.” The only ones who actually grew up in the Great Depression were the youngest two who, in all reports, “Had things we never had because Sister (the oldest) was working and sent money home.”

Mopage. Every kid does it. Every kid has reasons. I just needed school to start.

“I don’t like this, mom.”

“What do you want?”

“A red one!”

“You look so pretty in blue. Why don’t we look for a nice blue dress?”

To me, blue was a non-color. I didn’t have blue eyes like my mom had. There was no reason for blue, not at all.

“You take everything for granted,” she sighed. “We didn’t have clothes like you have. Our mom made our dresses from flour sacks. We were happy to get them.”

All the flour I’d ever had contact with by then was in paper bags, so for a while I imagined them freezing in paper dresses. I felt very sorry for them. Later, I saw flour at the store in big, cloth bags and after that, they were all walking to school wearing cotton dresses with “Gold Medal Flour” proflour-11-350x182.jpgudly proclaimed by their little chests. I have since learned that in the 30s, flour companies sacked flour in gingham and calico because they knew ALL farm moms did this and it helped sell their flour. Maybe a lot of times the patterns were red or pink or yellow and the little girl who was my mom just wanted blue.

And she moped.

I suspect on the quilt under which I sleep there are squares made of flour sacks. My grandma made me the quilt. It’s “cherry basket” pattern, but you can see how my grandmother carefully filled each basket with flowers.


The featured photo is my Aunt Mary Ruth and my Aunt Madylene (better known as Jo and Dick) in front of their house in Hardin, Montana during the depression. Jo is nearly 4 and Dickie is 2.

4 thoughts on “August, a Week before School Starts

  1. Now that one almost left me speechless. How wonderful, recycling flour sacks for clothes and it is not nostalgia. It was something that was done to make sure the money went round in the family. A wonderful patchwork quilt.

    • While I hated listening to her redundant litany of woe and envy, I actually loved the stories and I think that the reason I tell stories now is because I loved them so much as a kid. Inside every “You’re lucky. We lived in paper bag in middle of road” and “You were lucky. We lived in a paper cup in a septic tank” was a gem, filled with people and conversation and heroism. I loved her more than she ever knew and I wish that this little photo weren’t so prescient. All that remain of those girls are these two, Jo and Dickie, now in their 90s. I guess they survived all right 😉

  2. Flour came in calico sacks, too. I think the manufacturers knew folks used the fabric for clothing and packed flour appropriately. My mother learned to sew using flour sacking.

    Of course, both parents grew up during the depression. My mother was born in 1910, so she was a grown woman — unemployed for 3 years — during the depression. But it was a big family and a couple of the brothers and sisters always had some work and made sure no one starved. And then, finally, it began to end … but it left scars.

    I heard more about Nazis and concentration camps than the Depression, though WWI was never far away, either. I always thought that my mother had lived through an incredibly interesting time and I loved her stories of coming through the depression and how they danced in the streets when FDR was elected. She grew up when horses and carts were the rule and cars were rare … and died as computers came of age.

    • I thought my mom’s stories were interesting, but the lectures got tedious. I loved it when the family was together and they started telling stories. I wrote them all down, too. 🙂 Your mom was the age one of my mom’s brothers.

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