Mary Alice Patch Schacherbauer was born on Dec. 22, 1914, which makes her now more than 100 years old. She has lived in Union County all of her life. Born in Chuckery, she also lived for a while with her family in Essex, but her real heart lies in Jerome Township and New California, where she graduated from high school in 1933 in a class of 11 students.
Her book, “Days I Remember,” was written over a period of about two years and was mainly for her daughters, Judy and Marylee, because she wanted them to know about her life and the best way to convey this was for her to write it down.
Her earliest memories were from 1918 (near the end of World War I). She remembers home dances at the Gosnell farm. All the neighbors brought food and they would roll up the rug and dance. Everyone sang and her father played the harmonica and her mother the organ.
For a farm family it seemed unusual, but the Patches moved quite frequently. They went from a small farm outside of Plain City into town, then to Route 736, and then to Essex in Northern Union County. As Mary Alice said in her book, “Someone was always moving.”
There were four children in the Patch family and Mary Alice was the oldest. They rode a “kid wagon” to school. It was a horse drawn wagon with a roof and canvas pull-down sides for bad weather. It was so cold in the winter, she says her mother would heat a brick for her to carry to help keep warm.
They lived on a farm and the girls in the family were never required to do farm work. That was for the boys. Mary Alice helped in the kitchen where she watched her mother create wonderful food dishes. Pies were her specialty. Now Mary Alice still makes pies, maybe thousands in her lifetime, still including homemade crust.
There was no electricity, so laundry was a big deal in the 1920s. A fire was started in the morning to heat the wash water and also the rinse water. It was usually on Monday, that’s all day Monday! They made their own starch and soap (made from leftover lard or fat). The clothes were washed on a big board in a tub and run through a hand ringer to get the water out. The laundry was hung on a line outside to dry. If it was cold, that took all day long. Her mother also believed it was important to hang the clothes neatly, colors together and whites bleached brightly, plus no panties visible to the neighbors.
The wringer would sometimes pull the buttons off the clothes, so there were almost always repairs to be done after the wash. Then there was the ironing. Mary Alice says ironing was an art and a sense of pride for a job well done.
After the laundry was done, nearly everything had to be ironed and they used a thing called a sad iron. It must’ve been named that way because it made the person using it sad (or it was a poor excuse for an iron). You see, it was heated on the stove and was often already cooled before they finished ironing a piece. They ironed everything – towels, sheets (that were often cotton muslin), and all the clothes they wore.
For most of her life, Mary Alice lived in the Jerome area, but in 1926 her father moved the family to Essex in Northern Union County. It was only for one year because her mother hated it. The house was one mile back from the road on a mud lane, which was terrible in rain or snow. There was no electricity, so no radio or telephone, and it was cold and drafty. Her father plowed with a horse.
Since there was no electricity, they lit the house with kerosene lamps. It was important to not spill any of the kerosene, but that, of course, was impossible. The wick had to be trimmed evenly or it wouldn’t glow well. Each day the soot had to be cleaned off of the chimney shade.
There was a lamp in the kitchen and as soon as the dishes were done, the lamp light was out. A device called a Rayo was a brighter version that was on the stand in the living room. Carrying a lamp up the stairs was a tough task and it didn’t shine very far.
Soon the family moved to Ostrander and then back to the New California area. Mary Alice was happiest there!
It was still the 1930s and the times of the Great Depression. She remembers it was worse in cities (no jobs and people starved). In the country, they were very poor and had no nice clothes, but there was food. The Patch family had a garden, chickens, hogs, and grain to trade for flour. Women canned everything they grew for the winter and her father hunted rabbits, pheasants, quail and squirrel. As she said, “We ate well even in this hard time.”
One very interesting thing Mary Alice remembers is the shortage of paper. Now, we have paper everywhere and throw many good pieces away. But in those days, a fresh tablet to start the school year was special. When that wasn’t available, they used anything to write on. The kids argued and begged for special pieces of paper between the layers of Shredded Wheat or in boxes of matches.
Letters to friends and family were a way of life and the letter tablet was special and used only for those messages to be sent through the mail. Bread was in a real waxed paper wrapper and that was reused as was leftover wallpaper, and her mother cut newspapers to make beautiful shelf paper.
Because there was still no electricity (it came in the mid-1930s), taking a bath was an interesting event. They used a large tub located in the kitchen. Water was heated on the stove and the girls went first. The oven door was open and the stove was hot to provide warmth for the room. The kids all used the same water and her mom and dad would go last. But she’s pretty sure her dad didn’t use that water. He wanted fresh water.
Next week: more about Mary Alice, her teenage years, and then her marriage to Lee Schacherbauer.
(Melanie Behrens – email@example.com).
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