I Survived The Great Vegetable Canning Battle
Remember when...
Life In The Year 1900
Older Than Dirt!
Life in the 1500s


In his memoir, "Over-fulfilled Expectations," University of Missouri Ag-economist Harold Breimyer recalls the advice one Ohio State University extension worker offered a group of Depression-era farmers. "If your wife can't can garden vegetables so they will keep, learn to do it yourself," suggested the extension man.

Had my parents been in that 1930's crowd, they would have found the advice redundant. In my youth, they were among America's most competent canners.

In fact, or so it seemed to my four brothers, sister and me, whatever came into our farm kitchen between June 1 and Oct 1 --be it animal, vegetable or mineral --was skinned, peeled, cored or shucked then blanched, boiled and cold-packed before being toted to the basement.

During those endless summers, we kids may not have learned how to hit a Little League curve ball or do the backstroke, but we did learn that homemade sauerkraut worked well as a paint remover, that field corn- be it DeKalb, Funks or Pioneer -- all tasted the same when it came out of a quart jar in December, never to eat anything labeled "Last of the Garden" and that botulism was our enemy while boiling water was our friend.

The summers of our discontent began each spring on Good Friday when my grandfather arrived with a 100-lb sack of seed potatoes. Grandpa was not a born gardener, he was a born boss. And, as we soon learned, we kids were born for him to boss.

Grandpa would sit on a bucket under a silver maple and proceed to cut the hundreds of potatoes into thousands of three-eyed seed pieces. We would plant and hill the required 10 or 12 quite crooked rows in the huge garden.

When the job was done, Grandpa would rise from his executive bucket and go home, never to inspect our patchy potatoe planting. I guess he thought he had done his one annual job to ensure his grand-progeny would not starve in the coming winter, thus satisfying his idea of German patriarchal responsibility.

Then my parents would swoop in to plant the vegetables. Five, 300 mile long--at least to us--rows of peas, as many green beans and wax beans, single rows of red beets (yuck), spinach, cucumbers, Swiss chard, pole beans, lettuce,radishes, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, two types of onions, Brussel sprouts (double yuck) and square plots of 40 or more cabbages and 30 or so tender tomato plants had (had!) to be planted by nightfall. They always were.

Each seed bore prodigious fruit. Despite an occasional farm drought, we never witnessed a green bean or red beet crop failure. We kids were sentenced each morning to picking bucketfuls of beans or peas and each afternoon brought the tedious task of podding and ending. Paroles came only when you matured enough to wrestle a hay bale.

And just when the day's heat reached its absolute peak, we began the canning process. Jars. Vegetables. Water. Heat. More jars. More vegetables. More water. More heat. By dusk, or about the time my father trudged home from the sweaty evening milking and we kids were swimming in the goofy ether of heat exhaustion, we'd eat a cold supper, and - if we had been efficient Prussian packers that day, maybe a root beer float-before showering and dropping dead into bed to prepare for the next day's great Ball jar battle.

Oftentimes, my father and my mother, frustrated that physical threats against our persons were no longer effective tools to ensure our assistance, encouraged us by saying sweetly, "Just think how good it will taste next January."

Certain we'd all be dead by next week from these do-or-die Prussian packers, next January- other than it followed Christmas, of course - meant nothing to us. Survival mattered and we weren't going to make it.

But survive we did; thrived, in fact, on all the great-tasting, summer canned fruits and vegetables.

And now, as summer brings forth another crop from own gardens, we tell our smarty-pants sons and daughters, Just think how good it will taste next January. Why don't they believe us? Like our parents before us, we know.


Close your eyes . . . And go back . . .
Before the Internet or the MAC,
Before semiautomatics and crack
Before chronic and indo
Before SEGA or Super Nintendo
Way back . . .

I'm talkin' bout hide and go seek at dusk.
Sittin' on the porch,
Hot bread and butter.
Eatin' a 'super dooper sandwich' (Dagwood),
Red light, Green light.

Chocolate milk, Lunch tickets,
Penny candy in a brown paper bag.
Hopscotch, butterscotch, doubledutch
Jacks, kickball, dodgeball, y'all!

Mother, May I?
Hula Hoops and Sunflower Seeds,
Jaw breakers, blowpops, Mary Janes,
Running through the sprinkler
(I can't get wet! All right, well don't wet my hair.....)
The smell of the sun and lickin' salty lips . . .

Wait . . .

Catchin' lightening bugs in a jar,
Playin sling shot and Red Rover.
When around the corner seemed far away,
And going downtown seemed like going somewhere.
Bedtime, Climbing trees,
A million mosquito bites and sticky fingers,
Cops and Robbers,
Cowboys and Indians,
Sittin on the curb,
Jumpin down the steps,
Jumpin on the bed.
Pillow fights
Being tickled to death
Runnin till you were out of breath
Laughing so hard that your stomach hurt
Being tired from playin' . . . Remember that?

I ain't finished just yet . . .
What about the girl that had the big bubbly hand writing??
Licking the beaters when your mother made a cake.

Remember . . .
When there were two types of sneakers for girls and boys (Keds & PF Flyers), and the only time you wore them at school was for "gym."
When nearly everyone's mom was at home when the kids got there.
When nobody owned a purebred dog.
When a quarter was a decent allowance, and another quarter a huge bonus.
When you'd reach into a muddy gutter for a penny.
When girls neither dated nor kissed until late high school, if then.
When it was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents.
When decisions were made by going "eeny-meeny-miney-mo."
When mistakes were corrected by simply exclaiming, "do over!"
When "Race issue" meant arguing about who ran the fastest.
When money issues were handled by whoever was the banker in "Monopoly."
When catching the fireflies could happily occupy an entire evening.
When it wasn't odd to have two or three "best" friends.
When being old, referred to anyone over 20.
When the net on a tennis court was the perfect height to play volleyball and rules didn't matter.
When the worst thing you could catch from the opposite sex was cooties.
When it was magic when dad would "remove" his thumb.
When it was unbelievable that dodgeball wasn't an Olympic event.
When having a weapon in school, meant being caught with a slingshot.
When nobody was prettier than Mom.
When scrapes and bruises were kissed and made better.
When it was a big deal to finally be tall enough to ride the "big people" rides at the amusement park.
When getting a foot of snow was a dream come true.
When abilities were discovered because of a "double-dog-dare."
When saturday morning cartoons weren't 30-minute ads for action figures.
When no shopping trip was complete, unless a new toy was brought home.
When "Oly-oly-oxen-free" made perfect sense.
When spinning around, getting dizzy and falling down was cause for giggles.
When the worst embarrassment was being picked last for a team.
When war was a card game.
When water balloons were the ultimate weapon.
When baseball cards in the spokes transformed any bike into a motorcycle.
When taking drugs meant orange-flavored chewable aspirin.
When ice cream was considered a basic food group.
When older siblings were the worst tormentors, but also the fiercest protectors.
If you can remember most or all of these, then you have LIVED!!!!

How Times Have Changed!

The average life expectancy in the United States was 47.

Only 14 percent of the homes in the United States had a bathtub.

Only eight percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost 11 dollars.

There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.

The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the twenty-first most populous state in the Union.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour. The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births in the United States took place at home.

Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as "substandard."

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were 14 cents a dozen. Coffee cost 15 cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason, either as travelers or as immigrants.

The five leading causes of death in the US were: 1. Pneumonia and influenza, 2. Tuberculosis, 3. Diarrhea, 4. Heart disease, 5. Stroke.

The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska hadn't been admitted to the Union yet.

Drive-by shootings-in which teenage boys galloped down the street on horses and started randomly shooting at houses, carriages, or anything else that caught their fancy, were an ongoing problem in Denver and other cities in the West.

The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30. The remote desert community was inhabited by only a handful of ranchers and their families.

Plutonium, insulin, and antibiotics hadn't been discovered yet. Scotch tape, crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented.

There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.

One in ten US adults couldn't read or write. Only six percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, "Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."

Coca-Cola contained cocaine instead of caffeine.

Punch-card data processing had recently been developed, and early predecessors of the modern computer were used for the first time by the government to help compile the 1900 census.

Eighteen percent of households in the United States had at least one full-time servant or domestic.

There were about 230 reported murders in the US annually.


Count how many you remember...

1. Blackjack chewing gum
2. Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water
3. Candy cigarettes
4. Soda pop machines that dispensed bottles
5. Coffee shops with tableside jukeboxes
6. Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers
7. Party lines
8. Newsreels before the movie
9. P.F. Flyers
10. Butch wax
11. Telephone numbers with a word prefix (Olive -6933)
12. Peashooters
13. Howdy Doody
14. 45 RPM records
15. S&H Green Stamps
16. Hi-fi's
17. Metal ice trays with levers
18. Mimeograph paper
19. Blue flashbulbs
20. Beanie and Cecil
21. Roller skate keys
22. Cork popguns
23. Drive-in
24. Studebakers
25. Wash tub wringers

If you remembered 0-5 You're still young
If you remembered 6-10 You are getting older
If you remembered 11-15 Don't tell your age
If you remembered 16-25 You're older than dirt!
(In case you're interested, your webmaster is "older than dirt!")


Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children--last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it--hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs--thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice rats, and bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof--hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying "dirt poor."

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entry way--hence, a "thresh hold."

They cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while--hence the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale paysan bread which was so old and hard that they could use them for quite some time. Trenchers were never washed and a lot of times worms and mold got into the wood and old bread. After eating off wormy moldy trenchers, one would get "trench mouth."

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust."

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up-hence the custom of holding a "wake."

England is old and small and they started out running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a "bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer."


"Geezers" (slang for old man) are easy to spot. At sporting events, during the playing of the National Anthem, they hold their caps over their hearts and sing without embarrassment. They know the words and believe in them. They remember World War I, the Depression, World War II, Pearl Harbor, Guadacanal, Normandy and Hitler. They remember the Atomic Age, the Korean War, The Cold War, the Jet Age and the Moon Landing, not to mention Vietnam.

If you bump into a "Geezer" on the sidewalk, he'll apologize. Pass a "Geezer" on the street, he'll nod, or tip his cap to a lady. "Geezers" trust strangers and are courtly to women. They hold the door for the next person and always when walking, make sure the lady is on the inside for protection.

"Geezers" get embarrassed if someone curses in front of women and children and they don't like violence and filth on TV and in movies. "Geezers" have moral courage.

"Geezers" seldom brag unless it's about the grandchildren in Little League or music recitals. It's the "Geezers" who know our great country is protected, not by politicians or police, but by the young men and women in the military serving their country in foreign lands, just as they did, without a thought except to do a good job, the best you can and to get home to loved ones.

This country needs "Geezers" with their decent values and common sense. We need them now more than ever. Sadly, however is the realization that as this generation of "Geezers" passes on, there doesn't appear to be anyone to take their place.

Thank God for us "OLD GEEZERS." And, yes, I'm proud to be one!