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Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014

The way it was back then

Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012, at 7:18 AM

Originally published in the NSC on April 4, 2004

I have always regarded 1914 as being a very notable year. I was born that year, and so were Joe DiMaggio, Joe Lewis, Burt Parks, Tyrone Power, and Gypsy Rose Lee. The Panama Canal was opened that year, and Edgar Rice Burroughs published his "Tarzan of the Apes." The world's first red and green traffic light was put in operation in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Greyhound Bus Line had its beginning that year. Bacon and chuck roast were selling for 17 cents a pound and a dozen eggs cost 25 cents. You could buy a pound of coffee for a quarter and mail a letter for two cents. Laundry detergent was a half-pound bar of soap, and you could buy it for a dime.

James Edward Salk, who developed the vaccine that brought Polio under control, was born in 1914. Babe Ruth began his baseball career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Socks. Our Federal Reserve System had its beginning, and the passenger pigeon became extinct that year.

Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States in 1914, and his wife died that year. World War I had its beginning in 1914, and I was old enough to remember seeing the soldier boys march down the brick and cobblestone streets of Cape Girardeau after helping to win that war.

So I have lived through two world wars and witnessed the transition from the horse and buggy to the automobile and space travel, to putting a man on the moon and landing a craft on the planet Mars.

I heard the first feeble voices of radio and watched it spread to instant communication to all parts of the world and to outer space.

I watched the arrival of television and watched with awe its first pictures, which were just about like looking through a dirty window to the outside on a cloudy day, where children were playing in a snow storm.

I have watched the flickering pictures of the silent movies, where captions were flashed on the screen to outline the dialogue of the actors.

For communication beyond shouting distance, the "party line" telephone was the instrument to communicate with our neighbors. When we wanted to talk with Mr. Jones, we would ring one long and two shorts. If we wanted to talk with Mrs. Smith, we would ring two shorts and one long. Mrs. Croy was two longs and two shorts, and when we rang any of these numbers, every telephone on the party line would ring. Everyone had memorized the combinations, and when the two shorts and one long came over the wire, everyone would rush to their telephone to find out who Mrs. Smith was talking with and what they were talking about. When we wanted to talk to someone on another party line, we would ring one long to get "Central." We would tell the operator at the switchboard who we wanted to talk to, and she would plug us in and ring the number for us. In 1914, less than 10 percent of the homes in the United States had a telephone.

When I was growing up on the farm in South Bollinger County, Missouri, in the 1920's, our family's net income was about $300 to $400. The daily wage for a common laborer was one dollar per day, and that was for a ten-hour day.

Our only form of transportation was the team of plow horses hitched to the farm wagon. We didn't have electricity, so all the lighting for our house was a kerosene lamp, which we would carry from room to room. The lamp gave off just a little more light than a glass jar filled with fireflies.

We had no refrigeration, and any food left from the noonday meal was left on the dining table, covered with a tablecloth, and come suppertime, we just removed the cover, added a few more beans, and supper was ready. I guess salmonella had not been invented at that time.

We carried our water in buckets from the pitcher pot in the yard. We didn't have a bathtub and didn't take a bath very often, especially during the winter months. During the summer, we would make trips to the slough or to Castor River to wash off the accumulation of dust and dirt. To dispose of the dishwater, it would be carried out in the dishpan and tossed over the back yard fence.

Back in the early 20's, we didn't have a lot of modern conveniences. We did everything the hard way, but we still had time to visit our neighbors and help any of them in need. Today we are producing many things to make life easier, things that will last fifty years but will become obsolete in six months. We have so many time-saving devices that it keeps us busy trying to take care of them.


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I loved to hear the stories my grandmother told about how things were when she was young so I enjoyed reading this article almost as much! I used to wonder why Grandma would get up at the crack of dawn every morning--and then she explained that she had always gone to bed when the sun went down. Made sense then!

-- Posted by TNMom2 on Wed, Oct 3, 2012, at 10:30 PM

Paul Corbin has so many untold stories! Let's pray that he continues to share them with us.

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Oct 11, 2012, at 6:12 AM


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Paul Corbin is a 98-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.
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