Reminiscences of the Way It Was

Most of the homes in the areas of Sunset Hills were 2-story white frame structures. Some of these homes had a long hall dividing the downstairs into 2 sections; the parlor and sitting room were on 1 side and the dining room and kitchen on the other side. There may have been big sliding doors that could close off the dining area. There was no central heating system; the degree of warmth of the house depended on how many fireplaces there were. Franklin stoves also provided heat. The bedrooms were upstairs. If the winter was extremely cold, the young children and the older people were moved downstairs until spring. A cistern was in the back yard to catch rain water, usually there was a rain barrel to catch runoff water from the roof at 1 end of the house. Some of the later houses had a well with a pump right in the kitchen. Older home residents had to carry the water inside from an outside well. Many homes throughout the hilly land had a small spring on the property and a spring-house provided enough refrigeration for the milk, cream, and butter. Sweet potatoes were put in straw in a barrel if they weren't in the spring-house. Turnips were buried; Irish potatoes were put in the cellar and turned. The winter supply of apples were put in a large wooden box and checked ever so often. The cellar door on the side of the building was slanted and opened upwards. It made a great sliding board.

Back Yards
Outside in the back yard was a woodshed, to keep the winter supply of wood dry, and this building is also where the children took their punishment. No 1 explained to me why but everyone said all the spankings and whippings were given in the woodshed! Somewhere in the back, away from the water supply, was an outhouse. This was a little shed covering a fairly deep trench. This shed had a floor and a bench with 2 or 3 oval holes cut in it. The windows were usually cut in the shape of a quarter-moon and there was 1 on either side. Toilet paper hadn't been developed too thoroughly yet and so this is where the old "Montgomery Ward" and Sears and Roebuck" catalogs were recycled. If you didn't have old catalogs or magazines you sometimes had to use corncobs for toilet paper. A barrel of lime was kept in a handy place, either right in the outhouse or close by in the woodshed.

Inside Bathrooms
Back at the house itself the wealthy homes had commodes in the bedrooms, which would be emptied every day. If you weren't quite so rich but still too cold to make the long trip to the outhouse during the night, there was available a big porcelain jar with a lid that was called a Johnny Pot.

Cleaning & Clothes
The walls of the house were of white plaster. One of the big jobs of Spring-house cleaning was to whitewash all the inside walls. The floors regained their original lustre by sweeping them with sand. If there were children in the house there was no problem with polishing the banister of the stairs, they kept it well polished by sliding down and hoping they wouldn't be caught at it. Mothers always complained about wearing out your clothes. You didn't have very many changes of clothing. There were work clothes and Sunday clothes. Girls wore the same dress to school for a week; boys wore overalls or knickers. Material for clothing was brought at the general store or at a dry goods store if you went into the city . Flour sacks were used for underwear. These had very bold, big, bright lettering and had to be bleaches or rubbed a long time to wear off the printing. No girl wanted to go to school with "Pride of America" stamped on her underwear.

Clothes were washed on Monday with soap that had been made on the farm. All the grease and meat drippings had to be saved so that it could be mixed with the lye, made of ashes from wood, to make lye soap-really strong stuff.

Plant Remedies
There weren't too many Doctors and these were only called for in cases where the home remedies didn't work. Some of the older women had developed such skills with roots and herbs that they traveled to a home when needed to help with the doctoring. Most babies were delivered by grannies. Everyone knew some of the more common remedies and there was a special place in the home for all the roots and herbs to be stored. Roots had to be dug at a certain time in the Spring-the almanac told you when if you couldn't read noon signs for yourself-and the family would go herb hunting, especially for a sassafras tree. Tea made from the roots of this tree was used as a spring tonic to thin the blood and tone the system for the hot weather ahead. If you were a small enough child the adults would allow you to have a piece of root to suck on while everyone else worked. The best roots were a certain distance under ground level and, of course, you didn't take too much so that you wouldn't kill the tree. The inner bark of the white walnut was used as a laxative. It would be boiled down into thick syrup. Thickened with flour, rolled into a ball, dipped in sugar and set out to dry. Later in the summer when the leaves were out and the wild plants had appeared almost everything growing was used in some way. Children were taught to carefully identify plants. Mushrooms were especially dangerous because poisonous and nonpoisonous varieties were deceptively alike. You had to be extremely observant or you became extremely ill.

Natural Medicines
Ginseng was their Geritol or tonic. Lady slipper roots boiled in milk had a calming effect similar to today's tranquilizers. Cough syrups had a cherry bark base. Cough drops were rock candy soaked in camphor or whiskey. Honey and lemon juice worked well, too. Mullein flower, or sage, camomile, or horsemint tea conquered colds-you hated the taste of the different medicines so much you got well quicker so you didn't have to take any more tea. Senna leaves, May apples and white walnut bark were laxatives. Croton oil was used only for severe constipation. The ooze of poke root mixed with lard eased the itch of 7 year itch. Wahoo helped fight chills and fever. A brew of burdock roots or gentian was a blood builder. Digitalis root is still used as heart medicine, Catnip tea was good for colic and summer complaint in babies. Goldenseal (yellow root) was ground into a fine powder and dusted on wounds or sores, even blown through a paper cone onto and infected throat. The first TUMS were a bit of goldenseal root chewed everyday. Milkweed juice was supposed to take off warts. Wines and cordials were made for blood builders and intestinal disorders. Apple cider and corn whiskey were also used to cure many things. A "Hot toddy" of hot water, sugar and whiskey kept you from catching cold or ague.

Natural Creams
Red wool from the red flannel underwear you wore in the winter was used as a plaster. The material was soaked in turpentine or coal oil and the area of the body to be treated was rubbed with lard to keep the turpentine stupe from burning the skin. A mustard plaster was used for sore muscles or chest problems. Dried mustard was mixed with water and lard to make a thick paste which was rubbed into the red flannel. The mustard plaster worked well on lower back pain, too. A bad burn was treated with a paste of baking soda and water. Boils were helped by a poultice of raw potato scrapings. Some seem to think that their parents felt "the worse the treatment smelled or tasted, the more good it did". They are all very quick to point out that none of these things should be tried today with such excellent medicines available, If you want to find out about herb and root treatments, follow Euell Gibbon's advice-make certain you know what you are doing. A lot of wildflowers are poisonous.

Food & Chores
Whether or not you made a living for the family by farming, everyone had a garden and animals. You raised hogs, cows and chickens. The cows were dairy cows, not beef cattle, and so were not butchered. Hogs were butchered in the fall and there was meat everyday. Men and boys hunted squirrels, rabbits, ground hogs, opossum, butter ducks, or tail ducks. The fishing was good in Gravois Creek (it must have been a lot bigger, then). The Meramec River had many crawdads and mussels as well as fish. Out in the garden you grew staples such as sweet and Irish potatoes, corn, turnips, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, and cabbage. Some farmers had large orchards, others grew strawberries and watermelons. Whatever was raised and regardless of responsibilities at an early age. It must have been hard for a little boy to plow a field when the fish were biting or hard for a girl to concentrate on what greens to pick when there were flowers to pick, instead. De-bugging the potatoes was no fun, either. Boys and girls learned how to milk the cow, feed the chickens, gather the eggs, curry the horse, chop the wood and stack it, because all these chores needed to be done and each 1 had to help or nothing ever got finished.

If the man of the house worked in the city he would be driven by horse and buggy to the Windsor Spring Station of the railroad and ride to town. In the evening he had to be picked up from the station or walk home. People walked a lot more then. When the new St. Lucas Church was built in 1905, Mr. Bopp of Kirkwood was the general contractor. His 2 sons helped their dad in several ways. On bad mornings, they would meet the train at Main and Webster. (Kirkwood Road and Argonne) and bring the workmen out Denny Road by buggy. Other days the men walked from the station to the church site. Water for the mortar was carried from Asa Tesson's pond (now Sunset Country Club pond). At noon it was their job to go down to Gnauck's Tavern and bring back the beer buckets for the workmen. They rigged a carrying pole so that many buckets of beer could be carried at 1 time. Each man would drop his nickel or dime into his tin bucket (the name was painted big on the side), the bucket was put on the pole and when there were enough buckets on the pole for a load, the boys would walk down to the tavern with the bucket riding the pole balanced on the 2 boy's shoulders. The bartender would take out the money, fill the bucket with the beer and the boys would move up a notch. When all the buckets were filled they would bring them back up the street with out ever having to remove the buckets from the pole. These workers worked from sunup to sundown 6 days a week. Mr. Bopp didn't remember how much they were paid, but he did remember that they worked hard the whole day. They had great pride in their workmanship.

Social Events
Social activities were usually confined to Saturday night's gatherings at the Farmer's Club. There would always be a fiddler for square dancing. The men liked to play checkers and chess, play cards, billiards, and race ponies.

Weddings were great social events. Everyone in the church was invited and usually the entire neighborhood came. The reception included much eating (and drinking sometimes) and once again the fiddler played for square dancing. After the newly wedded couple settled into their new home, the neighbors in what was called a chivaree or shivaree greeted them. This was supposed to be a noisy serenade according to the dictionary, but according to pioneer Americans who took French practice and changed it around a bit, it became a noisy time of fun and pranks. The newlyweds were supposed to feed the group to get them to go home and leave them alone.

Funerals were a solemn occasion, but also a time of gathering for the entire countryside. The ladies brought food for the family, the men pitched in and did the chores during the time of mourning. The funeral procession from the church to the graveyard was accompanied by the tolling of the bells from the church and from the bell tower at the graveyard entrance. Mr. Theiss used to toll the bells at the entrance of Parkholm Cemetery.

Eighth Grade Graduation was a time of recitations and picnicking. Concord School students marched from their school to the Concord Farmer's Club bandstand for the graduation ceremonies. Each student was expected to give a recitation to display their learning abilities. If there were very many in the graduating class you could hope that not more than 1 student picked "Hiawatha" for their presentation. One man said he threatened to recite: "The boy stood on the burning deck, His fleece was white as snow. He stuck a feather in his hat. John Anderson, My Joe!"
But the thought of the trip to the woodshed prevented him from doing so. After diplomas had been presented and the class thoroughly challenged to meet the future and do great things, the fun and games began. All-day affairs such as this were great fun and exhausting to those participating, but the chores still had to be done when you got home. Dusk had you sleepily heading home, hoping the cows weren't bawling too loudly. It would not be a good finish to the day if Bossy kicked the milk pail over just as you finished milking.

Those days were much more family-oriented than today. Girls were not allowed to attend functions unescorted or unchaperoned which usually meant the family went to the Farmer's Club or Church Parties together and the young men met their girl there. At a school dance the walls were not lined so much with wallflowers as with Fathers. The young people liked hayrides-the chaperones were the ones driving the hay wagon. There were no fast means of transportation if you lived away from the Railroad. You walked or rode the horse. Young men very seldom got the family car for the evening-Papa didn't like his good workhorse out at night so it was a rare time if you got the horse and buggy. Children and adults alike worked 6 days a week. The only break in the routine was the Saturday Night Social. Some of the people were born, reared, married and died without ever going more than a few miles from home, It was a quiet, unhurried life.