by Suzy Lowry Geno
I make no bones about it. I am an addict. And you might as well not even try to help me overcome my two biggest addictions.
First of all, all my family knows I am a newspaper junkie! And I don’t mean that sterile, glowing print you can read on the Internet.
I mean honest-to-goodness, I-can-smell-the-printer’s-ink, old-time newspapers on newsprint!
My grown kids have known for years if they are anywhere other than our area, they better bring mama back any small town or big city newspapers from wherever they are traveling or visiting! All that knowledge and all that good reading about others across this land sure helped me during my more than 30 years in the newspaper business!
So it was with great delight that I learned one of my cousins, Robbie McAlpine, who owns the Alpine Advertising Agency, had tracked down the Saguache Crescent, a 135-year-old newspaper that still prints in linotype.
He’d seen a feature on CBS news recently, called the owner, and subscribed since the out-of-state rate is only $18 a year.
Not only is that small Colorado newspaper printed the old-timey way, but a recent front page boasts the per-copy cost is still only 35 cents!
The front page also showed news that most any folks would like to read. While there were announcements for local candidates, there were also articles such as the "Saguache Quilters," "The Rocky Mountain Range Riders" and a "Celebration of Ranching."
The Classifieds were equally both educational and entertaining. One wanting office help listed the job classifications: "good telephone voice, good computer skills, long hours, low pay, absolutely no chance of advancement."
And nearby was an ad for a "beautiful free rooster."
I can’t afford to live in Colorado, but that newspaper sure lets me know "my" kind of folks live there!
And then there’s my other addiction and it’s equally as bad.
I can’t pass up beautiful fabric, particularly old-time cotton fabric such as that from feed sacks, old aprons and more.
My home office, which doubles as my sewing room, usually looks like a fabric store was hit by a tornado and the remains all dumped between these four walls.
I used to love to go to estate sales. I often found boxes filled with unique items such as quilt fabrics which had already been cut to sew, spools of thread often with a threaded needle stuck into its roll, and so much more.
I always tried to finish each project, aware of the loved one someone had lost who was no longer able to sew for their family.
Now I am fortunate that several people understand my addiction and they help me by providing just what I need by bringing me such goodies whenever they have lost a loved one, or are simply downsizing.
Such was the case last weekend.
A very sweet couple brought me several pieces of cotton fabric, but the neatest items were stuffed into a throwaway plastic bag from a grocery store.
There were about 60 paper-pieced quilt squares! And the best part was that the NEWSPAPER used to sew the pieces into their designs was still attached to the back of the squares!
I was in addict heaven!
I started reading all the seven-inch squares and soon found I had clippings from three newspapers from January, February and March 1956 (when I was a dainty 4-year-old)!
These newspapers show how our lives have gotten so COMPLICATED since then. Although there have been improvements, somehow I long for that more simpler time!
I know the average income was way below what it is now, but it just seems those dollars went further.
Here in the Alabama Farmer’s Bulletin from early 1956: "80 acres with a seven room house, electricity, barn, outbuildings, ‘lasting water,’ several pecan trees, school bus and mail route. $11,000. Lee County."
Or another in DeKalb County: "40 acres, 28 cultivated. Five acre pasture, balance cotton. Six room house, electricity, poultry house, barn, two wells, orchard, $7,500 or exchange for farm with two or more houses."
Or this interesting ad: "Farmall A tractor with cutting harrow & turn plow, Ford tractor with Bush & Bog, cutting harrow, turn plow, planters, cultivators, mower, $900 or exchange for 3 young Shetland mares in foal."
And these two would certainly be "illegal" now unless you complied with lots of rules and regulations, but then you could get: "vegetables, pickles, 25 cents per quart or 12 for $3" from an enterprising woman in DeKalb County or "All kinds canned green vegetables, 12 qts. $4, 48 qts. $15. Apple, pear & blackberry preserves, jams & jellies, 50 cents per pint" from another hard-working homemaker in Jackson County.
Oh, and that year the going price for most hay advertised was 50 cents per bale!
Some of the other prices in the weekly newspaper clippings from our area showed men’s tee shirts 3 for $1 in Arab and Chenille bed spreads for $2.98 to fit a double bed.
Oh - and something you don’t usually see any more: Men’s dress hats were $1.98 to $2.98!
Bath cloths were five cents each and ladies panties 5 for $1!
The grocery store ad noted "young tender pole beans, 2 lbs. for 29 cents; yellow squash two lbs. for 19 cents, and cabbage four cents a pound."
Since so many people are "getting in" to chickens these days, you might be surprised at some of the live chick prices from 1956: "Hatcheries reported prices paid for hatching eggs during the week at an average of 84 cents per dozen. Average price charged by hatcheries for chicks was reported at $15 per hundred. These prices compare with 84 cents and $15.25 for the previous week and with $14.50 a year ago."
You could get a "gentle mule that will work anywhere" in Blount County, and an equally able mule in Cullman County for $150.
During those months Alabama’s "dairy men" set a new "high mark" in efficient milk production. Milk production was 338 pounds per cow above that of 1954 and "butterfat was 10 pounds higher than the previous year."
While it may be hard for our tech-savvy youth to realize, many of the rural farms in Alabama had only received electrical service and phone service in the previous decade, and many churches’ and rural schools’ bathrooms were still little "houses out back."
I know my own family, just three miles outside Oneonta, installed their first indoor restroom shortly before I was born in 1952 and a party line telephone was the chief means of communication. I can remember when my family bought their first TV around 1956 when these newspapers were written.
No - I wouldn’t want to go back to using an outhouse (but I COULD if I had to) and there’s many other modern conveniences that help me in my life, BUT I wonder many times if it really was a good trade off.
I enjoy typing an article and having it instantly in the hands of my editors miles and miles away. I’m glad I don’t have to hitch the mule or horse to the wagon each time I want to run to the store as my Granny did. BUT ... from the writings of my grandmother Maud Smith Lowry in the early 1900s to these 1956 newspapers from more modern times, I wonder quite often if we’ve really improved our lives with many of these changes or would we be much more satisfied and CONTENT to live these more simple lifestyles .... Just something to think about from this simple woman struggling to live her simple life.
Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.