Bridging Generations

Ancestors and descendents of Joyce Verla Pratt and Mark Richard Berrett

Modern Conveniences

Christmas, 1950 Frank, Madalene, Judy (front), Janet, Joyce

Christmas, 1949
Frank, Madalene, Judy (front), Janet, Joyce

Pop and Gram settled into their new home on Myrtle Avenue.  The Depression had eased, Pop had regular work at the Chevrolet factory, and they were able to live quite comfortably raising their three daughters, Joyce, Janet and Judy.  The house was small – about 20′ x 30′ total and had just two very tiny bedrooms which opened directly off the living room.  Neither of the bedrooms had closets built in, so Pop  enclosed the back porch which was then always referred to as the shed, and he built a closet in that room so the girls had a place to hang their clothes.

For a number of years, the Pratt family didn’t enjoy the luxury of an electric refrigerator, but had an ice box in the porch/shed for keeping food cold.

Vintage Icebox

Vintage Icebox

Iceboxes were made like cupboards with inner linings of tin or zinc and insulated with material such as cork or sawdust.  Closing with hinged doors, they were built to hold blocks of ice on an upper shelf, allowing cool air to circulate  through the lower food and drink cupboards below.  A hose ran down through the ice box, and as the ice melted it dripped out of that hose into a container.  Some of the better models had spigots for draining the melted ice water from a catch pan or holding tank, but families using the cheaper units (like the Pratt family) placed a drip pan under the box which had to be emptied at least once a day.  After many times of SOMEBODY forgetting to empty the drip pan, and cleaning up water that had overflowed all over the porch floor, Pop drilled a hole in the floor and put an extension on the hose so the water would run directly on to the ground outside.  That was real convenience!  I can only imagine their excitement when they finally purchased their first electric refrigerator!

The little house was complete with a basement which Pop kept clean and whitewashed regularly.  The basement housed a huge coal furnace, into which Pop had to shovel coal all winter long.  It heated the house through a complex mess of pipes that came out of the furnace at varying angles and lengths.  Because of the pipes running haphazardly in every direction, these furnaces were often referred to as “the octopus.”  Along with the furnace, the gas hot water heater was in the basement.  Any time the family wanted hot water, someone had to go down and light the heater with a match and then wait about 30 minutes for the water to heat.  Although that process sounds extremely tiresome for us today, in the 1940s it was considered a great convenience to have hot running water “on demand.”

Gram’s wringer washer was also kept in the basement beside a set of double laundry tubs.

Wringer Washing Machine

Wringer Washing Machine

Every Monday was wash day, and Gram would light the hot water heater and then fill the washer tub with hot water.  She filled the double tubs with cold water and then got down to the business of dirty laundry.  Sorting the laundry into loads, she would start with the white clothes in the washer and turn it on.  When she determined they had washed long enough, – no automatic cycles on that machine –  she would put each piece of clothing through wringer into the first tub of cold water for rinsing.  She then repeated the rinsing in the second tub of cold water, finally running the clothes through the wringer and into a basket to be hauled upstairs and hung on the clotheslines in the backyard.  That process was repeated until every load was done.  Every load was washed in the same water beginning with the whites and working through to the last load of dark clothes, probably Pop’s dirty work pants and shirts.   If the weather was bad, they had to hang the clothes in the basement to dry which meant about 2 days of drying time, so everybody hoped for good weather on Monday!

I know Gram had this washer for a number of years, because I remember “helping” with the laundry when I was young.  I was fascinated with the system and thought it lots of fun!

Judy and Madalene - 1948 Doesn't this look like Catherine Sanders Fairall?

Judy and Madalene – 1948
Doesn’t this look like Catherine Sanders Fairall?

Obviously, no-iron fabric and steam irons were not available when the three Pratt girls were young, so their dresses were starched before being hung to dry and then had to be sprinkled and ironed very carefully.  To reduce the amount of laundry, the girls changed out of their school dresses every day as soon as they got home and wore the same dress for several days each week.  The girls learned to handle an iron when they were in their early teens, and then became responsible for doing their own ironing.

 My life sure seems easy!



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