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TideWriters Tales
School Days in the 1930s III
By Catherine C. Brooks

     When Mary and John dressed for school this morning, they each decided which pair of shoes they would wear to coordinate with other attire. And if their athletic shoes werenít in their school locker, they grabbed them before going out of the door. Little did they realize that life had been so different for their grandparents less than a century previously.

     In the early 1930s, we all had either one pair new shoes, if finances allowed, or we had polished our old ones to look as new as possible when school opened. Some said they wore tie-shoes, others oxfords, but they were all the same type and tied. At least we girls grew up after the day when many of the ladyís shoes buttonedóa time consuming task when dressing.

     If by chance we had new shoes, they would be one or two sizes larger than what we needed. Our mothers stuffed the toes with absorbent cotton, layers of cloth from a worn garment or paper until they seemed to fit lengthwise. If the shoes slipped up and down on our feet after stuffing the toes, she would cut up a discarded felt hat, if one existed, or use layers of thin cardboard to fit over the insole of the shoe until it fit. The boys from some of the larger families wore knee high boots most of the year. If the weather happened to be warm, they left their socks off, sometimes causing blisters on their heels or feet from the bootís vibration. The condition demanded that their mothers care for the area with an application of Mercurochrome; even kerosene was used when nothing else was available, to avoid infection. Then she bandaged the area with pieces torn from the edge of a worn sheet or similar fabric to relieve the discomfort and protect against further damage, tying the ends of the bandage in square knots.

     Even though the roads were dusty and sandy in dry weather, the long walks wore the shoe soles down. We had two shoemakers in Mathews Court House (the countyís shopping area), who both kept busy, replacing soles and heels of shoes. If the soles wore through and the family couldnít afford replacements or the shoes were too worn to warrant repair, one of our parents would cut firm cardboard to fit in the shoes where the insole had been. The more layers we could use without making the shoes too small, the longer we wore the shoes. If needful, they would repeat the procedure. Sometimes when oneís toes became too cramped in the shoes for comfort, a parent would cut a slit across the toe area of the shoes to keep them from binding the childís feet. More than one student came to school with their toes protruding through the slits.

     When did you see someone darning or patching socks or hose? In my family the practice lasted only to a little past the mid 1940s. My husband often told me that loss of my time was more costly than a new pair of socks. He finally admitted the darned or patched areas proved uncomfortable. I didnít argue since I had always disliked the task. Today my husbandís grandmotherís silver-handled darning egg sits on whatnot shelves in my home for a memorial of the yesterdays.

     Galoshes for the girls and boys without boots proved a must in rain and snow. Since they cost less than shoes, the little expense warranted the purchase to protect our more expensive footwear. We often heard: ďA penny saved is a penny gained.Ē The overshoes purchased must fit the larger shoes or be large enough when the family could afford new shoes. Thus we would wear them more than one year.

     Few of us in the three-room schoolhouse knew anything regarding professional ball games. However we played ball with a flat board whittled smaller at one end to fit our hands and a rubber ball. We followed the basic rules of todayís baseball with bases, batterís plate, a pitcher and a catcher. Three strikes and you were out, home runs, and all the rest. Although we all served as umpires, disagreements seldom occurred.
In spring and fall, both boys and girls played marbles. We girls didnít shoot as accurately as the boys so usually we played separately. Now, this was a game that wore the toes out of shoes as we twisted and turned on our knees, trying to get in position for the best shot. The school didnít allow marble games for keeps, but some boys played for keeps on the side. If they were really good, they went home with heavy pockets and the loser had slack ones. Today I have a candy dish from the 1940s filled with marbles. At this point, Iím not sure how many were my husbandís and mine from the 1930s and how many were my sonís from the late 1950s.
We played fun games, often supervised by the teachers: Drop the Handkerchief, Ring around Roses, Goose and Gander, London Bridge, Tug of War and the lists goes on and on. Games like Hide and Seek or Tag could be played when all else seemed too much.

     Iím not sure students have recesses today, but we had three. In mid-morning we used the outside toilet and talked during little recess for 15 to 30 minutes. Some, especially the boys, would enjoy throwing a ball from one to the other or other exercise. At noon, we ate our lunches during the one-hour-big recess before we began our trips to the outer house or play. In mid afternoon, we might have another 15-minute recess. Some of us just did school work during this last recess unless we needed to relieve ourselves.

     By todayís standards, we lived a primitive life, but though poor in material things, we felt rich in a free country, with our parentsí love, friends and crime in our immediate area practically unknown. One of the older boys hoisted the stars and stripes up the flag pole every school day that weather permitted. We began the day with a scripture (usually a Psalm) reading, The Lordís Prayer and a salute to the flag. 

© 2002 Catherine C. Brooks All Rights Reserved

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