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Making do
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“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” These are the words of wisdom I often heard during my youth. I learned the lesson so well that I have never had a credit card or a debit card. Christian Community Ministries, Community Medical Clinic, Food for the Soul, and Wateree Community Action are a few of the many sources for help for the needy in present-day Camden. People during the “making do” generation, such as my widowed mother, had only a chicken yard and a garden. These frugal women did not just use the chicken feed for the chickens. The print of the sack became dresses. In fact, one of the prettiest outfits I had as a child was made from these prints and had panties to match! The chickens she ordered from the post office as biddies; the garden she dug out and, not having money for pesticides or help, she enlisted my brother and me. Actually, everyone learned to be independent and to find solutions to their own problems. They “made do” within the family.

As a child, I had no television, radio, hand-held games, trips to summer camp, or the numerous expensive, mandatory means for entertainment children have today. Children played games which they created themselves, using their imaginations, since their parents had not time, money or the inclination to create lazy children. Youth learned to occupy themselves, certainly not bothering their parents and gaining extra chores. The children of these generations learned creativity and self-sufficiency. Through reading, I learned to go anywhere and do anything I wanted. I was to find that anticipation is often better than reality. John Rosemund would say I had a blessed childhood. Perhaps I did.

Women of these generations did not spend time in depressed states. They did not have time! My mother’s first cooling device was literally an ice box, ice being delivered on tongs. This box required constant attention, or the water ran all over the kitchen floor. I could never believe how a relatively small chunk of ice could turn into so much liquid! Later, the ice box was replaced by a refrigerator, whose freezer was about the size of a small loaf of bread. Naturally, this space would only accommodate the ice trays, so women had to can, using what they grew themselves.

The kitchen was always stifling in summer and the only warm place in winter! No wise girl entered it get warm, however; too many chores existed. The wrought iron range gobbled wood and emitted more heat than a furnace. It also had an ever-empty reservoir that required constant refilling. I always thought a wise inventor would construct a way to get the melting water from the ice box channeled into the reservoir, especially since emptying the ice box pan and refilling the reservoir were extra duties for me. Women canned in glass jars, all of them taking pride in the beautiful shelves of provender, showing their expertise. (No wise child took a jar to help in making mud pies.) Women made everything from scratch -- biscuits, cakes, pies, meat (chicken, pork, turtle, possum, squirrels, whatever), and vegetables. No such things as sliced bread or frozen entrees existed. Men would have said that women did not work; males were the providers. Rarely did a woman work outside the home or have personal funds. Work, however, she did constantly.

Mother had a huge dining room table with leaves which she used when her 11 brothers and sisters came to eat, especially for the delicacy of chitlins. Even with the extra leaves, at least three seatings, often four, would accommodate all. Men ate first, women second, and then the children. Mother did have a dishwasher. I can still hear her refusing help from her visitors, telling them, “It won’t take any time.” I’ll agree; it took me ages, however. I certainly know how to wash dishes! With so many people, I often had to wash between seatings, no paper plates being available then. No wonder I do not eat meat, having raised, cleaned and prepared all under Mother’s tuteledge.

Families also had many children to rear; my father had 11, nine by his first wife, who must have seen death as an earned rest. Infant mortality was the usual thing; five little graves keep silent vigil by the side of my father and his two wives on either side.

With all this hot, endless work, surely a means to cool existed -- not so! Our home had no electric fan. Only the open windows would sometimes blow in a breeze. My mother, the youngest of her family and aged 40 when I was born, would tell us to keep the fans given out at the funerals of her numerous family, admonishing us not to lie, to give them back if asked. Attending funerals was one of the mandatory activities my brother and I had. The country churches where the services took place had no screens. Even when the service was complete, everyone had to pass by and view the deceased in the open casket, perhaps built by the kinsmen from trees on their land.

Television has an ad in which a young women in her late teens comes, quite upset, to tell her mother that her boyfriend, a vegetarian, is coming in 20 minutes. The mother tells her not to fret and looks online for special recipes. My mother would have said, “You have a problem. Get busy.” When I did not like what was available for a meal, she would remark, “If you do not like it today, you’ll like it by tomorrow.” Sometimes she was right, but not about meat, especially chitlins. Perhaps that is what is wrong today. Parents take responsibility for their children’s failure to show them respect and care. What is wrong with just personally “making do?”