The Norman Transcript

May 16, 2013

Mothers today aren’t like early mothers

By Shirley Ramsey
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Early mothers were known for their ability and willingness to sew for family as well as friends and neighbors. When clothes needed mending or someone needed a dress or a jacket, many mothers could always come through.

“You have to stand still, Betty,” Mabel says. “I can’t get this pattern folded right with you wiggling so much.”

James, Mabel’s son, comes in.

“Going somewhere special?” he says to Betty.


Mabel sighs. She sits back in her chair.

“OK, Betty, you can go now. I finally got it pinned right.”

Betty rushes out the door.

“High school kids seem to be always in a hurry,” Mabel comments. “Will you be that way, James?”

Later, when his mom is sewing Betty’s jacket, James says to her, “Why do you sew for our neighbors for free?”

Mabel glances up.

“Just like your aunt, the neighbors need me to sew for them because some of them can’t sew.”

She looks back down and straightens fabric on the sewing machine.

“They do things for us in return. We help each other.”

Helping extended to the community. The party line brings busy news.

“We need a casserole or dessert for the Priestley family,” a familiar voice imparts the news. “The father is ill and can’t work. The whole family needs clothes. Help all you can.”

For more than a month, the women help with laundry, mending, carrying in food, driving to the doctor — until the father can work again.

They often brought food into the local church to feed workers with hammers and saws complete youth centers or make repairs.

“Bring your hammers and saws Friday evening,” the pastor tells the congregation. “We’ll start building rooms in our new addition. The concrete is dry and our ladies agree to feed us.”

The ladies usually provided a feast. Most mothers insisted their oldest children come with them and help clean up afterward or watch after the toddlers.

During the Depression, quite a few women left the rural areas where they were raised to join their husbands in locating a job. A few brought livestock and chickens with them.

Living closer to others often got complicated.

“Get out here and help me chase down Bessie and the other cows,” Lena calls through the screen to her children. “Your dad’s at work. The cows broke down the fence and are tramping down the neighbor’s yard and garden.”

The family and several neighbors help corral Bessie and friends.

“Whew,” one person comments when the fence is wired up and the cows safe inside. “I feel like a farmer rather than an oil worker. I’m ready for a bowl of Bessie’s real ice cream.”

Lena promises it for their next community get-together.

“Well, that could help,” comments the neighbor, whose fresh vegetable hopes have been crushed by Bessie and friends. “It would help make up for cleaning what those messy cows left behind.”

“I appreciate your help,” Lena comments. “Just think of the cows’ leftovers as good fertilizer for next year.”

Shirley Ramsey, a retired professor of journalism, lives in Norman.