My mother’s Hoosier cabinet was in the pantry off the kitchen. I have many memories of her using its work space to beat up a cake (by hand) or to roll out lefsa dough to be baked on top of the old Monarch wood stove for our Norwegian Christmas gathering.
Graduation pictures and a large portrait of the U.S.S. Oakland, the ship my brother served on in the Pacific during WWII, hung on the walls of our living room.
It was a large square room, covered with figured wallpaper and furnished with an overstuffed, burgundy, velveteen davenport, matching easy chair (crocheted doilies on the back and arm rests) and a heavy dark wood rocking chair.
A console radio stood in one corner. My mother’s sewing machine, which was folded inside a cabinet, was used as an end table. A rather elegant mahogany-stained drop-leaf Duncan Phyfe table stood in the bay window cavity.
The furniture had been purchased in the early 1940s from a local department store in our small town, or perhaps the Sears catalog, as were the lace curtains covering the bay windows.
Come the 1950s, despite its shabbiness from years of use, the furniture stayed. My parents had no thoughts of upgrading. Couldn’t, actually. Having lived through the Depression, they had no money for improvements. Indeed, they were simply grateful for the items they had, and intended to make all of them last forever.
Not me! This was the beginning of the prosperous and promising Atomic Age. The world was becoming streamlined. Modern, appliance-filled kitchens — with nary a Hoosier Cabinet or Monarch range in sight — were showing up in magazines and movies. Living rooms displayed sleek sectional sofas and ottomans and coffee tables, balanced on thin “blond” tapered legs.
The times were changing, and so was I. I longed for all of this shiny new stuff to be in our house, but could do nothing about it. Living there, among that shabby old furniture, I felt trapped in my parents’ world of that earlier bleak era, that time of scarcity and despair.
I resented having to live that way. In my (somewhat bratty) teenage mind, I felt was being deprived — and not just of an up-to-date home.
There were some beautiful clothing items in our J.C. Penney store — cashmere sweater sets, for one. Realizing if I were ever to own the many “nice things” I saw all around me in this new streamlined world, I knew I’d have to dig in. I’d have to work to earn the money to purchase them once I was on my own.
So began a life of strict austerity. With every job I had, I saved money, pinched pennies, actually. Even today, until I have the cash to pay for a new item of any kind, I go without.
And so do many other children of Depression-era parents. We all grew up learning firsthand the importance of frugality and deferred gratification.
Today, the bratty kid that I once was can turn around and say “thank you” to my parents for showing me the way.
Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].