Tuesday, December 16, 2014

There and Back Again

By Connie Cortright

By the time everyone reads this posting, my husband and I will be in Vancouver, British Columbia visiting our oldest son and his family after stopping for a few days in Spokane, Washington visiting another son's family. We're thrilled to be flying out to visit our grandchildren for Christmas this year. 

Today, a trip like this is not out of the ordinary at all. However, during the 1930’s this would be unheard of. There were no commercial air flights during those years. At least, none that any normal person could afford. Only the very rich businessmen flew from one city to another, much less across the country. After WWII, commercial airlines became more affordable. More people were flying for vacations by the 1950’s or 60’s.

Yes, people did travel across country during the 1920’s and 30’s, but under much different circumstances. It would have taken all two weeks of our vacation to just drive the distance between Milwaukee and Seattle. And I’m sure it wouldn’t have been attempted in the end of December. Crossing the mountains in the winter can still be tricky today, even with our freeway systems. Eighty years ago it was impossible.

Long road trips back then would have been done on country roads going about 35 mph. The freeway systems weren’t built until much later. On a stretch of a US Highway in Nebraska, drivers had to stop to open gates that crossed over the road. Then after closing the fence again, the trip could continue. No wonder it would take weeks to drive that distance.
Most of the roads back then were dirt or gravel. Of course, during a rainy time, the roads were mainly mud. A driver had to be prepared to get stuck in the mud on any given day. Also, all drivers had to know how to change a flat tire and patch the punctured tube while out on the road. Most drivers were part-time mechanics fixing their fan belts or other broken parts. Many roads would abruptly end at the edge of a river. Then time would be wasted waiting for the ferry.

There were no motels either. “Auto courts” were precursors to motels. They consisted of a row of cabins along the road that could be rented for the night. The best auto courts had community kitchens, where suppers could be cooked for the family.

If that was how we still had to travel today, I can assure you we wouldn’t be taking a two week trip to Vancouver for Christmas. No one would. When people drove across country in the 20’s or 30’s, it was most often for a permanent move.

Information taken from From Flappers to Flivvers-We Helped Make the 20’s Roar published by Reminisce Magazine.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What in the World are Groceterias?

by Connie Cortright

That's a good question. This word is no longer in use today, but in the late 1920s it was the newest idea for marketing. It was a combination of grocery and cafeteria. These new kind of stores allowed people to pick and choose their own groceries like they did when buying lunch at cafeterias that were springing up in cities.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, groceries were tiny establishments where the food was mostly stored behind the counter. The owner would take a housewife's order, collect the canned goods himself into a box, and add the costs for a total. More often than not, he'd probably also arrange to deliver them to her house.

Women went grocery shopping every day, since they had no way to refrigerate food to preserve it. They had to stop at several shops to buy their items--the bakery for bread, butcher shop for meat, vegetable stands for produce, and finally the grocery store for canned and dry goods. They most likely walked to all these neighborhood stores which were a block or two from their homes. No wonder some people had servants to do this burdensome task daily.

Over the next couple decades, all of that changed when grocery stores became more like cafeterias. Groceries were now placed on shelves where the shopper had to take a cart and pick out what she wanted from the store. The stores also started stocking meat, dairy, and produce under the same roof. That meant that a housewife had to only drive to one store to buy all her food needs instead of going to several places.

With the availability of home ice boxes or refrigerators, women could buy ingredients less often. The shopping trip for food changed from a daily task to a weekly task. The use of automobiles made it possible for families to travel across town to purchase their needed food items.  These stores were usually located at the edge of town with large parking lots to provide a place for all the cars.

Basically, grocerterias were the first name of supermarkets. By the 50s and 60s the neighborhood "mom and pop" stores were often put out of business since supermarkets could purchase and distribute food at a more inexpensive cost. The neighborhood grocers became a thing of the past.

I still remember running to the corner store after school to buy a penny candy or other quick treat, but by the time I graduated from grade school, that corner store was pretty much a thing of the past. Today seems to be the other extreme with the mega food stores springing up. I feel so lost in those huge stores trying to find the one item that I need. Sometimes it would be nice to bring back the old ways.

What memories do you have about a neighborhood grocery store - or maybe it was called a groceteria?

Information taken from A Quick History of the Supermarket

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Time for Dinner - Or Is That Supper?

by Connie Cortright

What did people call the evening meal in a household? Dinner or supper? Its' safe to say that this question was answered in various ways according to their geographical and historical location. Since this blog concentrates on "Midwest Life during the 20s and 30s", we'll be limiting our discussion to the upper midwest states' traditions.

Of course, we must define dinner as being the big meal of the day no matter what or when it was served. The most recent example would be Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone enjoyed their big Thanksgiving meal last week no matter what time of the day it was eaten. Dinner has been the large meal of the day since the Middle Ages. So the question comes down to when was that meal eaten.

Through the 1800s and going into the 1900s, the noon meal was called dinner. It was the large meal of the day for several reasons. Most Americans back then were farmers who worked hard on the land every day. They needed a noon meal of potatoes, roast beef, vegetables, and of course bread and butter to give them the energy to work all afternoon out in the field. (My grandfather insisted on having a piece of bread every dinner every day of his life no matter how much food was on the table.) It was also easier to do the cooking and cleaning up after the big meal while it was still light out. After dark the use of lantern or candles didn't make working in the kitchen very easy.

As cities started growing and becoming more industrialized, this tradition had to change. The man of the family worked a full day, but farther away from home in a factory. He couldn't come home at noon any longer and had to take his meal in a sack. Thus, lunches started replacing the noon meals in cities. Electricity also made it possible for women to do the cooking and washing up after dark with the help of electric lights. The evening meals were then made into the main meal of the day with meat and potatoes.

The rising number of workers eating lunches away from home also brought about the necessity of diners and eventually fast food places years later. Men often bought their lunches in a diner to avoid bringing a sack lunch with them from home.

The transition of calling the evening meal dinner instead of supper took many years especially for families who lived on farms. I grew up on a farm in the 50s and continued to call my father and brothers to supper when we were ready to eat in the evening. The one main midday meal we continued to eat even after my mother started working was Sunday dinner. Since everyone was off of work on Sunday, we always had our main meal then and had Sunday dinners at noon until the time I got married and moved away from home.

Even the different editions of "Etiquette" by Emily Post showed the changes during these years. In 1922 Emily Post never mentioned luncheons in her book, but by 1945 she had to explain that a lunch was generally for women enjoying a day out. By 1960 lunches were always midday with dinner served in the evenings.

Today, the vast majority in my area of the country eats dinner in the evening and lunch at noon. Suppers have been diminished to a once in a while event at church, such as soup suppers. When do you eat dinner at your house?

Information taken from History Magazine.