The Greatest Generation of the South

Ina Faye’s mother was a “pack-rat” who lived through the Great Depression. A child of seven brothers and sisters, they lived in dignified poverty, glad and thankful for hand-me-downs, clothes, apples, peas, okra, and whatever their neighbors could share in those difficult years. It was a hard-scrabble life but nobody complained much.

Ina Faye’s dad came from a well-off family. Even though he could give her mom whatever she wanted, mom still tended to hoard things. Dad was a farmer who owned a dairy, a milking machine, and even ran Charlet (Charolais) cows bred for beef.

Recycling grease in containers for later use, she would cleanse the grease with potatoes to prevent cross contamination of frying smells. Having brought her frugal ways into the marriage, she saved all the time and cut corners.

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When she passed away, Ina Faye found yards and yards of string, old twine, boxes of saved aluminum foil, washed, dried, and neatly stored for future use, jars of buttons, tubs and tubs of Crisco shortening, used tin foil plates scrubbed clean, and batches of home-made lye soap for her husband to use after fertilizing the fields and working on farm equipment.

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Ina Faye’s mom always stocked up on sale items and, since Southern ladies fried most of the things they cooked, Crisco shortening was a must pantry item to store in excess.

Old dresses and ragged shirts would be cut into strips and made into lovely quilts which Ina Faye still proudly displays in her Mississippi home. As it was the case then, mom always made clothes for her girls until high school. A terrific seamstress, she made dresses and aprons for herself and other females in the family, a must in the wardrobe of any Southern country woman at that time.

Hancock Fabrics made a good business selling sewing implements, from Singer sewing machines, to buttons, to thread, fabrics, yard sticks, and McCall’s dress patterns made of thin onion-skin beige paper.

Ina Faye found an entire cedar chest filled with fabrics her mom had purchased to make dresses for Cox’s army. The fragrant scent of cedar brought back instant memories when she opened the lid.

In the late 70s and early 80s, the tide started to turn and southern moms started shopping more and more for ready-made clothes in department stores and the fabric shops started to disappear. There are few left around the country, such a novelty that the younger generations do not understand.

An occasional downtown fabric shop in a small town always makes me stop to peruse the racks of fabrics. The smell of cotton dye, the wooden shelves, and polished floors bring back memories long forgotten. I too had sewn my own clothes and my babies’ little dresses in the late seventies and early eighties. Sewing was terrific therapy for the soul and it saved us so much money.

The Greatest Generation learned to scrimp and save, using everything up until it could no longer be fixed and it had to be recycled. An appliance, a tractor, a vehicle, a stove, or anything with a motor, was fixed and reused until it fell apart. And even then, it was recycled or scavenged for parts. Nobody liked to buy on credit; they saved until they had enough money to buy what they needed.

And then, there were Green Stamps given at the grocery store each time a purchase was made. Women filled books of them and bought kitchen items and small appliances. It was so exciting to fill a new book, that much closer to a can opener, an electric frying pan, or a set of dinner plates.

Amway and Tupperware became popular among country folk. Families would have parties, selling vitamins, soap, farm surfactant, and plastic storage containers from Tupperware. There were few families in the South who did not have a Tupperware party and kept their rice, flour, tea, sugar, and other ingredients in classic orange Tupperware containers. My girls played with a Tupperware red and blue puzzle ball with different geometrical yellow shapes that had to be fitted through proper slots.

Everything people ate was produced on the farm. On a special day, dad would take the children to town for a cold cola in a glass bottle, taken out of the grocery store cooler or on a trip to the downtown Rexall Drugs counter where they served cola floats from a real fountain. When the children finished their drinks, dad would return the empty glass bottles to the store owner for a 5 cents refund per drink.

Ina Faye’s parents never bought them candy because mom would parch peanuts grown on the farm and would make chocolate fudge with the peanuts; on weekends, while they played games with friends, they had delicious treats. Her cakes and fried chicken from scratch were “second to none.”

It was a simpler life, close to home and to the country that revolved around church, a life that the children of today will never get to experience. It was much safer, closer to church on Sunday morning, evening, and on Wednesdays. Few girls were sexually active, it was something people did not do, it was immoral and dishonorable, and guys did not expect girls to “put out.” There was intense shame attached to such loose morals, and children were taught right from wrong. Most kids did not get into drugs, there was no Hollywood telling them that anything goes.

Ina Faye’s dad was highly respected in the community and knew most people in the area. He was the Justice of Peace for many years and a good friend of the Sheriff who lived up the road from his home. Her dad would sometimes hold court in their living room and a few couples were married on their front porch.

It was a life from another century when family, church, citizenship, hard work, and morals mattered. It was the 20th century generation of Americans that had made America great.

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