Fishing Camp Memories and Life in the '50s and '60s

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This story is from Nancy Swartz and submitted as part of our Wisdom from Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

My grandparents had a fishing camp on a nearby river, in the ’50s (actually before that — I was a kid — my father used to go there as a teenager) into the early ’60s. Of course, there was no electricity, running water (other than the river), or phone service. They had an ice box, for which we would stop and buy a block of ice on our way there. We went most weekends in the summer to the fishing camp. It was a great place for childhood experiences: fishing, swimming, wading, wildlife, etc. This was back before plastic was everywhere. My grandparents would use old glass liquor bottles to transport up potable water. They also had an outhouse where we used lime each time we used the “facilities.” It was shaded by trees, and one whole side was “windows” with screening.

I also remember my grandmother calling the refrigerator “the Frigidaire,” no matter what the make was. I’m guessing that’s because they were one of the first manufacturers of refrigerators. My grandmother’s purse was a “pocketbook.” My grandfather called the car “the machine.” They used a manual weed wacker and rotary reel lawn mower. Their house’s driveway was two strips of concrete, not a solid apron and drive. In the kitchen, there was a “box” in the wall where the delivery man would leave milk, bread, eggs, etc. My grandmother would mail her grocery list in the morning to the corner grocery store, and her groceries were delivered that afternoon. Their house also had a laundry chute to the basement where the washing machine was. I don’t think she ever had a dryer.

My other grandmother, who lived in rural eastern Kentucky, kept pigs, chickens and cows. She had a well and smokehouse. The smokehouse burned down about 54 years ago, and at that time, a nest of copperheads moved in. My grandmother had a huge garden and canned everything. I wish I had learned from her. She was also a quilter. She collected rainwater in a barrel to do the wash in a ringer washer. All her clothes were hung to dry. Her kitchen, when I was younger, was dominated by her huge wood burning stove. In later years, she only used the wood burner when it was cold out. She used a propane gas stove the rest of the year. I would write her letters until about 50 years ago when they finally got a phone: a four-party, party line. Someone else had gotten a phone and moved the telephone line to within one telephone pole of her house. (You had to buy the poles to get your phone service.) I remember my father helping to lay linoleum in the kitchen, which was quite modern 55 years ago. He also built my grandmother a “dry sink.” I can remember in the winter, food being left on the dining room table because it was cool enough inside to not need refrigeration. The dining room table was a huge old thing with some chairs at both ends and benches on both sides. My grandmother heated the house with a coal burning stove, a fireplace, and the big wood stove in the kitchen.

She always wore dresses! My aunts, who were my mother’s younger sisters, almost always wore dresses as well.

I remember a big “rock” sticking out of a hill halfway up. Much digging did not find its bottom, so my uncle went into town and bought dynamite at the local feed store. He reduced that rock’s “projection” by about six inches — so people stopped losing mufflers when they drove over that hill.

One final thing: When we went to my grandmother’s house, it was a five hour drive with no expressways. We spent the weekend. Also, you had to buy gas on Saturdays, because no gas stations were open in Kentucky on Sundays.

Photo by Fotolia/ Andreas Gradin

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