Ask the war wives

I know I talk a lot about my Neighbor Lady books. I suppose one could accuse me of being mildly — ok, massively — obsessed with the darn things. To me, those books are like opening up a dusty box in the attic to find grandma’s diary, left undisturbed for generations. These books are so packed with history, and a gentle reminder of times past.

The books I cherish the most are the ones from the years during WWII. These days we feel “deprived” if our cell phone poops out on us; in 1944, however, although the war was drawing to a close, the sting of actual sacrifice was being felt all over the country. As the saying in one of the books goes, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” How many of us abide by that today in our throwaway society? I know I feel a twinge of guilt when I think that our household puts out about 3 bags of garbage, if not more, per week. In our micro-pre-packaged world, it’s hard to buy anything that doesn’t come in a container that ends up getting thrown away.

Perhaps that’s why I like the Neighbor Lady books; they inspire me to use what I have rather than rushing out to buy new. They make me feel like taking a few extra hours to bake my own bread rather than buying the plain Jane store variety. If I didn’t live alongside neighbors, I would almost be inspired to go buy some chickens and a cow and go all Thoreau on everyone. (Speaking of Thoreau, I found my copy of Walden and I’m thinking of giving it another whirl, since I haven’t read it since college. I’m on a transcendentalist roll of sorts.)

To close, here are snippets of wisdom from the 1944 Neighbor Lady book. If you think your life is full of mundane routine, try being a housewife during the war.

A letter from Mrs. Alfred Olson, Clark, SD:

Dear Neighbor Lady: I got such a thrill out of radio once last summer, made me realize what an age of wonders we are living in. I wish I could picture the wonderful Dakota sunset as I sat in our car in the midst of acres and acres of golden wheat going steadily down as my husband drove the tractor and binder over the field, while in a nearby field our son was combining this same wheat into a truck that would deliver it to the market where it would perhaps go to the far ends of the world to supply our Allies and boys across the seas. As I sat there busily shelling peas for the next day’s harvest dinner, watching the scenes before me, the voice of our President in Washington, D.C. was coming from our car radio talking to our soldier boys and the people of the world. In my mind’s eye I could see far flung battle field and world needs, while my natural eyes were taking in the scenes of the marvelous peace and quiet of the Dakota prairies. I am sure that all of us neighbor ladies long for the day when this same peace shall cover the earth and bring our boys back to their homes. Meanwhile, we must do our best again this year to produce food with our victory gardens, canning, chickens, etc. The busy season is already upon us and we all grasp at and welcome every help that will make our work go faster and more easily, such as all the helpful recipes and meal planning suggestions.

And now, some household suggestions:

To dress up dishtowels, cut designs out of bright prints, turn under the edges and stitch on by machine. Make hand towels out of large flour sacks and also from not too coarse feed sacks. Fringe the ends and stitch by machine along the upper part of the fringe. Also cut two strips of bright prints for each end and sew them on for a border about two and one-half inches from the fringe. One sack makes two nice sized towels.
– Eleanor Prokosch, Sleepy Eye, MN

To remove old wax from a floor, wash the floor with turpentine, then with soap and water. If this does not remove it try gasoline, but one must be careful using gasoline.
– Jeanette VanderNaald, Orange City, IA
(Can you imagine how this would smell?! ACK!)

To keep paint from running down the brush, take an old hollow rubber ball and cut it in two, then cut a small hole in the middle and put the handle through this, making a cup to catch the paint. This will help.
– Mrs. Myrtle Elder, Spencer, IA

A slice of apple left in your husband’s tobacco jar will keep the tobacco fresh and moist.
– Mrs. Nina Phalen, Mason City, IA

Use Oil of Cedar polish and spiders will disappear.
– Mrs. George Granger, Mitchell, SD

Bananas will not discolor if cut witha plastic or silver knife.
– Mrs. Alma Campbell, Beresford, SD

As you take doughnuts out of the hot grease, dip them quickly into a pan of boiling water and you will be surprised how digestible, soft and moist they stay.
– Mrs. Glen Colby, Avon, SD

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