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Time of the Talk

Telephone-switchboar-operators

The year 1952 was a very important year for Donna Brown. This was the year that she began working at a telephone company in Joplin– one of the many favorite jobs that she did during her life.

“There was no interview in order to get the job,” Donna said. “All you had to do was sit down and show that you were able to reach certain lengths in order to work the switchboard.”

The “switchboard” was a device used to manually connect a group of telephones. The switchboard had rows of “jacks” (which served for each subscriber). In the area in front of the switchboard there were several columns of keys, lamps, and cords (front and rear).

Each column had a front key and rear key. The rear key was used to physically ring the telephone and, on newer models, used to collect the money from coin telephones. The front key was used by the operator to talk to the person on that particular cord.

When a call is received, a light glows to alert the operator. The operator takes the rear cord and plugs it into the corresponding jack. The operator then presses the front key and asks who the caller would like to speak to. After the caller replies, the operator takes the front cord and plugs it into the jack that belongs to the person the caller wishes to contact. Then, the operator presses the rear key and rings the phone until the other person answers.

Once the other person answers, the operator will begin timing the call and then move on with other calls. The length of time the callers converse determined the cost of the call. When the “supervision lamps” lit up, that meant that the callers were done.

Donna Brown got the job and soon began working. Her task was to connect people to other callers. When someone picked up a telephone, a light would appear on an operator’s switchboard. Donna would answer and ask what number the caller wanted. From there, she would take one cord and plug it into the slot for that particular number. Then, she would press a button that would ring the phone until someone answered. After the person receiving the call accepted it, Donna would begin to time how long the two people talked so that she could charge them properly.

Long distance calls (which usually cost about fifty cents for every 3 minutes) were much more complicated. In order to make a long distance call for a caller (say from Joplin to New York City), you had to call a number of different stations in order to get to the place you wanted to contact. For example, to make a long distance call from Joplin to New York City you’d call St. Louis, from there, the operator would connect you to Chicago or New Jersey and that operator would then connect you to New York.

“To get to a large city you usually had to go through about four stations; to get to a small city, you had to go through six or seven stations.” This was especially frustrating, because if someone disconnected you along the way, you had to start all over again, or some people could not pronounce the names of some small towns properly, making it extremely difficult.

Operators also had another difficult job. There was no way to tell how much money a person put into a payphone, so operators had to memorize the sounds that coins made in order to tell what the caller put in. “The coins sounded different,” Donna said. “The quarter was a very high pitched sound, the dime made two sounds, and the nickel was almost like a thud. You couldn’t pay with pennies. Emergency calls were the only free calls.”

Operators’ hours varied too. Because anyone could make a call at anytime of the day, operators had shifts. “There was a split-shift, which was 7 A.M. to 11 A.M. and then 4 P.M. to 8 P.M. There was also the straight shift that was 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. or 1 P.M. to 10 P.M. and the midnight shift that was from 12 midnight to 7 A.M..” The days that the telephone company received the most calls were Mother’s Day and then Christmas.

Donna quit working at Southwestern Bell Telephone in 1959 after she married. She had worked seven years there and said she thoroughly enjoyed the job and the friends that she made.

The Lost Art of Self-Reliance

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Knowing how to sew and make one’s own clothes is one step toward being self reliant; knowing how to grow and preserve one’s own food is another. My grandmother grew up in the post-depression era, and her family was heavily impacted by the Great Depression. They learned how to take care of themselves.

There were many skills that were deemed necessary for survival, but the most important was, as my grandmother said, “all of them.” One of the great many skills that my grandmother utilized quite heavily was the art of sewing and cloth making. She used to, and still continues, to make her own clothes and quilts. It is not a skill that one forgets when it is used to survive the harsh times; the clothes that she makes represent a lifetime of fending for one’s self. The stitchings in her work show a level of mastery that can only be rivaled by the modern mass made sewing machines. The amount of time and art that is put into the making of her clothes shows a level of determination that has all but disappeared in today’s society.

The life that many Americans lead in these modern times is one of mass production and mass waste. In the Depression Era there was little to no waste, and anything and everything that could be saved was saved and reused later. The amount of things that people were able to use time and time again was tremendous! Some food preservation techniques were advanced and effective. Take the art of canning.  Canning was a very effective method of food preservation. It allowed for things such as jellies and fruits to be preserved for long periods of time without spoiling. Canning was a tremendous breakthrough for the world of food preservation and was utilized by many, many people to save all that they could. My Grandmother is among them.

My grandmother has been described by many as “eccentric” because she does numerous things to prepare for times of crisis, such as growing her own food. The art of growing one’s own food has been around for centuries, and it allows for individuals to be reliant on themselves. This activity today tends to make people think of something that is “unique” or unneeded. Some people tend to rely heavily on the almighty supermarket, oftentimes spending hundreds of dollars just to have food for only a few weeks. However, by raising their own food, like my grandmother, they would be able to eat for months for a rather small amount of money.

My grandmother still uses the skills she learned as she grew up in the Post-Depression Era. She can make her own clothes and her own quilts, she can grow and preserve her own food, and she knows how make it through tough times. She is truly a shining example of self-reliance in the world of today.

Quilting in the Lowe Household

QuiltFeature

Between this generation’s fast-paced lifestyle and technologically-centered world, we often neglect the memories of the past, especially those of our local communities.  The stories of those before us are quickly fading into the background, and it is our duty to document these accounts before it is too late.  When you first look at a quilt, you may not think it has much of a historical significance.  With a second glance, however, you can see that quilting can reveal a lot about the lifestyles of the time periods in which they were popular.  Marlene Lowe, 92, was gracious enough to provide an interview on the subject.

Marlene Lowe was born on January 22, 1920 in Anderson, MO. Quilting was a hobby that was close to her heart in her youth.  She mentioned that some of her favorite memories of her mother were during those times.1

“[She] was always busy taking care of all the kids at our house, so when she sat down to quilt, it was one of the few times I got to really spend time with her,” Lowe recalled.  “She’d tell me all the stories from when she was a little girl and teach me how to stitch each piece together.”1

“My mother was always quilting,” she said.  “She’d call up the ladies down the road and they’d come over and spend hours just quilting and talking about what was going on in town.  I’d sit and watch the whole time, listening to everything they had to teach me.”1

Lowe learned quilting from her mother when she was a young girl, and often spent time working on projects with her.  She made her very first quilt when she was ten years old, an item she still has in her possession today.  Her pride for that project was easily seen on her face as she described how she had constructed it, stitch by stitch.1

“It was a pretty thing,” she said, “made from a dress of mine that had little flowers all over it. I spent hours on it, making sure every piece was in the right place.  It was a lot of work, but the satisfaction I got when I was finished made it well worth the effort.” Lowe continued to quilt as she grew older, but was eventually forced to stop due to her arthritis.1

The process by which the quilts were fashioned is also interesting in itself.

“My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” Lowe explained.  “We couldn’t afford to buy fabric from the stores, so we used old clothing.  I was the youngest in my family, so I got all my sisters’ hand-me-downs.  When I outgrew them, my mother would cut them up and take whatever fabric she could from them to make a new quilt.”1

According to her description, making a quilt was an extensive process.  To begin, it was best to lay all of the pieces onto the floor in order to see the entire quilt. Then, piece by piece, women would stitch every seam by hand, unless the quilter was fortunate enough to be able to afford a sewing machine.  Batting, a soft material used as padding, was then stitched to the patterned front.  Another large piece of fabric was added behind that, and all seams were stitched over once more to ensure everything was secure.1

Quilts were heavily used throughout the Lowe household.

“We used those quilts constantly in the winter,” she recounted.  “We had a wood stove, but it was hard to keep the whole house warm.  We’d put three or four quilts on our bed at a time to make sure we stayed warm during the night.”1

This was common during the 1930s.  The Depression was gripping the nation at the time, and money was hard to come by, as the Lowe household knew very well.  Quilts were an inexpensive way to guarantee that the entire family stayed warm.  This was also the time period when quilting patterns became extremely popular.  Quilters no longer had to trace pattern pieces and mark lines for cutting and sewing.  It was common for patterns to be sold in local grocery stores or distributed in magazines. If a pattern was purchased, it was typically shared with friends.2 This activity not only gives insight into the hobbies of those that lived in the World War II era, but also marks the stories of the lifestyle during one of our nation’s most defining periods.

Quilting was a large part of our national and local history that is often overlooked today, like many aspects of our former times. It is important that we ensure these details are documented before they are gone forever.  We as a generation must learn to look to our future, while never forgetting our past .

 

1. Lowe, Marlene. “Quilting in the Lowe Household.” Personal interview. 24 Nov. 2012.

2. MacDowell, Marsha. “Quilting in the 1930s.” RJR Fabrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov.

2012. <http://www.rjrfabrics.com/_media/patterns/pdf/pages/trip_world_03.pdf>.

Growing up a Preacher’s Kid

Old Peach Tree

Sharon Morris was the daughter of Everett and Mary Coleman. In 1928, her family donated land to the community where a church and schoolhouse were built. The church was called Peach Tree General Baptist Church, and it is still running today in the small town of Piedmont, Missouri. Everett and Mary lived on a farm with their six children, five boys and one girl. Everett worked at Brown Shoe Factory and was a preacher. Mary was a homemaker.

Although there were advantages and disadvantages to being a preacher’s kid, Morris said they still didn’t mind it. “It wasn’t bad. I can remember traveling to and from different churches in the car with a whole load of brothers.” However, she feels she was sometimes treated differently because of her father’s occupation.“Some of the popular girls would laugh about it. My closest friends didn’t.” Morris says that sometimes her life was different than her friends.  “My parents were always strict and I never got to go to school dances; that bothered me then.”

Sharon married Larry Morris and they raised two kids. She hopes that she has taught her children many things that she learned from her parents. “I wanted my kids to be able to participate in the sports and school activities that I couldn’t, but I do appreciateThe New Peach Tree growing up knowing I was loved and was taught values. These I tried to pass on to my children.”

Recalling memories from her childhood–some good, some not so good–Morris stated that “the worst I can remember was coming home in a bad snowstorm and wondering if we would make it. And then there was the time my dad hit a mule on the road on the way to church. We did go on to church, I believe.”

Morris now has four grandchildren with whom she is very close. How she was raised affected the way she raised her children and the way they are raising their children. She hopes her grandchildren will “be honest and work hard and love God.”

Though many kids have grown up as a preacher’s kid, Morris recognizes that the times have changed tremendously. “I think as a preacher’s kid now, they aren’t as strict and it is a lot easier to be in school activities.”

Many things have changed since the 1920s-1930s, but according to Morris the life of a preacher’s kid has stayed virtually the same.

Joplin, Missouri: Then and Now

joplin-main-street

Joplin has changed tremendously in the past 90 years. There are obvious differences in the style of clothes, the type of food,
and the norms of society.

Ninety-one year old Bettye Foust, who now lives at Spring River Christian Village Nursing Home, was born and raised in Joplin, Missouri. When she was a kid she lived in a small home with three brothers and sisters. Helping out around the house and with the preparation of food wasn’t mandatory for them, but they did pitch in every once in awhile.

“Back then, kids didn’t really help out too much; we definitely didn’t help out as much as we should have. When we did, though, it was always fun,” said Foust.

Foust attended high school at the old Memorial High School where Joplin High School’s ninth and tenth center is now located. School was very different back then, as everything was done on paper or a black board. Now, Joplin High School students use  laptops and Smart Boards.

"Historic Joplin." Historic Joplin RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

“Historic Joplin.” Historic Joplin RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

As was common in the 1920s, Foust’s clothes were made by her mother most of the time. She wore cotton dresses that went down to about mid-calf. Pants were not allowed for women at the time.  Although her family did not have a farm, they did have one dairy cow that provided milk for their family, and sometimes for the neighbors. Foust’s daily diet was mainly starches; she had tomatoes and potatoes that her family grew in their garden. Meat, when they had it, was a luxury. Only the richer families could afford to have meat for dinner.

“We only had meat a couple of times, from what I can remember, but when we did, I savored every last bite of it,” said Foust.

Downtown Joplin in the late 20s was the place to be on the weekends. Not only was every business located there, but there were frequent festivals and parades.

“There was always something going on, on a Friday or Saturday. It would be packed with so many people. Sometimes it felt like all

MorgueFile Free Photo.” IMG_9727-lt.jpg. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

of Joplin was there. It was definitely the place to hangout,” recalled Foust.

Every summer around May, Joplin would have a huge festival that just about everyone would attend. There were tons of food to eat and numerous activities to participate in. The activities brought people from anywhere around Joplin who would come to join in the fun. Foust recalls that one year there was even a ferris wheel that, at the time, was the biggest one in the US.

Joplin sure seemed the place to be in the late 1920s. It has grown in many ways and one can assume it will continue to grow.

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