The Good Old
by John Sheldon Perilloux
to "the good old days" are often heard when people refer to earlier chapters
of their lives. "The good old days" were really only good old days
in the sense that values and standards were higher than they are today, family
members often settled in the area in which they had been raised and,
consequently, family members were closer together, geographically and
spiritually. It was this nearness that contributed to the higher standards
and values of years gone by.
However, "the good
old days" were really not so good to many of those who lived those days.
Consider my mother, who bore eight children and raised seven of them to
adulthood. Her second-born died of whooping cough only six days after reaching
the age of one year. In those "good old days" doctors were often hours away,
and prevention or treatment of diseases such as whooping cough were still
unknown. Imagine the agony of a mother watching her one-year-old daughter
suffering the wracking coughs of that disease and the feeling of terror and
utter helplessness as she watched her die.
The period of my mother's
child-bearing years spanned almost 22 years, from 1914 to 1936, so that by
the time the final two children were born the eldest had already gone out
into the world to make his own way.
It would be some time
before he would be able to make his own way, however, since the country was
in the grip of the Great Depression, and something still worse lay in wait
beyond the Great Depression. This eldest son joined the
Corps, better known as the CCC, and $25 of his $30-a-month salary was
withheld and sent to his parents, helping put food on the table for the remaining
Given the nature of
that son, he probably looks back and really thinks of that experience as
the good old days. How many of us who came along later would do the
My earliest memories
of my mother were of her day beginning at 5 A.M. when she prepared breakfast
for my father before he left for work, starting a fire in a wood-burning
stove before being able to cook the breakfast. Next came preparing
breakfast for the remaining children at home and sending them off to school.
There was never a cold bowl of cereal on our table, but instead a hot, cooked
And after we had been
sent off to school her workday really began. She fed her chickens,
milked her cow, worked in her vegetable garden, cleaned her house, washed
the clothes and began cooking supper. There were never sandwiches at
any meal in that household; always there was a cooked
Now, about those
chickens. My mother sometimes gathered the eggs and set a brooding
hen on them to hatch her own chicks. This was a hit-or-miss method,
since she had no way of knowing which eggs were fertile and which were
not. At that time baby chicks could be ordered from the Sears-Roebuck
catalog and delivered through the U.S. Mail. My mother sometimes availed
herself of this service, ordering the chicks with an order form from the
back of the catalog. When the chicks arrived, they were delivered from
the post office, 10 miles away, by the rural mail carrier, Kido Tregre, sometimes
on Sunday. The mailman of that day probably never made more than $5-a-day,
but here was a man willing to get into his own car, on a Sunday, and deliver
live 2-or 3-day-old chicks to a postal patron 10 miles away. Today's
post office won't even deliver a quarter-ounce letter across town if it doesn't
have a zipcode as part of the address.
Those chicks would
later become roasted chicken for Sunday dinners. Between the delivery of
those chicks and the preparation of the delicious table fare, however, would
come hours of work, vaccinating each chick against the pox and feeding and
watering them. Then the fateful day would arrive when the designated pullet
would make the supreme sacrifice. It was always my mother who went
into the back yard and cut the neck of the chicken, despite her distaste
for doing harm to any living thing. Then she would pluck it, and clean it
and otherwise prepare it and then roast it in the oven of the wood-burning
stove, or in later years a kerosene stove or, still later, a gas
The milk that was served
on our table was milk gotten from my mother's own cow. Years later,
after she no longer had a cow to milk, she told us how she had always been
afraid that a cow would kick her while she was milking it. Still, she
went out every morning, during the fair weather of summer and the cold, dreary
mornings of winter, to milk her cow so that her family would have milk to
drink at every meal. She never put milk on the table without first having
boiled it to destroy any bacteria that may have been
Washday was not the
easy task it is today back in those "good old days." In fact, it's my firm
belief that the modern woman would be driven to despair if she had to face
that task today.
There was no running
water, no water heater, no washing machine and no clothes dryer. What
there were were two galvanized tubs, one for the wash water and one for the
rinse water, and standing in the tub with the wash water was a corrugated
brass and wood washboard. If hot water was needed for the wash (and of course
it always was), water had to be heated on a charcoal brazier (called a
réchaud in French), one bucket at a time, and poured into the wash
tub. Each piece of clothing had to be scrubbed up and down along the corrugated
washboard until it was clean, the soap suds wrung out by hand, and then each
piece had to be rinsed in the rinse tub until the soap suds had all been
rinsed out, and then the water wrung out again. After that strenuous work
each piece of clothing had to be hung on the outdoor clothes line, clipped
to a strand of wire with two wooden clothes pins.
While the wash was
drying my mother would be preparing dinner for whoever happened to be home
at the time. With one eye on the pots and one eye on the weather so
that she could rescue her wash from any approaching rain, she managed to
prepare delicious meals and squeezed in sweeping and mopping the floors in
Those floors were another
story - not the carpet and ceramic tile that are in my house today, but bare
wood and then later, linoleum. Those floors required much more labor
to keep clean than today's modern floors.
When the clothes were
finally dry on the line, they had to be collected, brought into the house,
and those that could be folded were folded and put away in a drawer
somewhere. Then came another chore that many consider a nightmare
today. There were no wash-and-wear fabrics in those days. Shirts and
dresses and pants had to be starched and ironed, and there was no electric
iron in our house either, because there was no electricity in our house then.
Two flat irons were heated on the wood stove. While one flat iron was being
used to iron a piece of clothing, the other was on the stove top, heating
up. This went on until every item of clothing had been finished and
hung up in a closet or armoire. Think about standing near a wood-burning
stove in a Louisiana kitchen in August, ironing clothes, with no fan or air
conditioner, and ask yourself what your reaction to that would be
And after supper had
been served and the dishes washed, my mother had time to help us with our
homework, by the light of a kerosene lamp, and after that was done she made
time to play a game of checkers or Chinese checkers with her youngest son.
He always won and thought it was because he was a smarter player. He
knows better today.
When the work and the play were finished for the day,
she knelt by her bedside and prayed, and reminded her children to do the
Running water and indoor
plumbing did not come to our house until many years later. Outhouses
were a common sight in the backyards of most of the homes in our neighborhood,
including ours. So that family members would not have to trek to the
outhouse in the darkness of night, chamber pots, referred to indelicately
as "slop jars," were used and then emptied in the outhouse in the morning.
Up until 1939 my two older sisters still lived at home and helped my mother
with the housework when they were not at school. One of the chores
that fell to them was the emptying of the chamber pots. After they
were emptied they were washed out and then rinsed, and the wash water and
the rinse water was dumped on the ground near a gardenia plant in the yard
near the wash shed. Never was there a greener gardenia plant or one
that produced larger flowers than that recipient of a daily dose of ammonia
from the residue of those chamber pots.
In 1939 one sister
married and left home to start her own family. In 1940 a second sister
married and set out to make her way in life with her husband, and a second
brother finished high school and joined the CCC. That left only three
of us children still at home.
December 7, 1941, "a date which
will live in infamy," as President Franklin Roosevelt told the nation in
a speech the next day. On Dec 7, 1941, bombs, torpedoes and machine
gun fire from airplanes of the Japanese navy destroyed most of the U.S. Pacific
Fleet and much of the U.S. Army Air Corps in a sneak attack at Pearl Harbor,
Wheeler Field, Hickam Field and the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay in
Hawaii. My mother saw two of her sons and her two sons-in-law go into
military service, not to return for almost four years. She said extra
prayers at night and at Sunday Mass and shared the anguish and uncertainty
of millions of other mothers all over the world . A blue satin flag
with four white stars was displayed in the front window of our living room,
signifying that four loved ones were off to war. Similar flags
appeared in the windows of almost every home in my neighborhood.
There were no draft dodgers in Montz, Louisiana.
Then, on a glorious
day in August 1945, the fighting and shooting and dying stopped after President
Harry Truman ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered. World
War II was over, and my brothers and brothers-in-law returned home.
One brother had earned a Purple Heart medal with the First Marine Division
during fighting on the Japanese-held island of New Britain in 1943 and then
another Purple Heart on Peleliu in 1944, but he was home
The hot war of World
War II had ended, but the Cold War had begun and was not to end for almost
40 years, until, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said,
"Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot." My mother
was to see her other two sons off to serve their country in their turn, and
also another son-in-law, two grandsons, a great-grandson and several
nephews. One son returned after three years, as did one grandson, the
son-in-law and some of the nephews. The great-grandson served nine
years, one nephew's body was returned to his widow and children, one grandson
returned in a flag-draped coffin before he had even reached the age of 21,
and the last son did not return until almost 22 years later.
My mother said that during those almost-22 years she checked her mailbox
everyday for letters from that last son, and sometimes went back and checked
a second time to see if she had perhaps missed a letter. That
last son regrets that he was not a more dutiful son and wishes that he had
written more often.
In her later years
the conveniences of electricity and running water, electric irons and gas
stoves, washing machines and clothes dryers, and all the other gadgets and
gizmos of modern times made my mother's life somewhat easier and relieved
her of some of the drudgery of "the good old days." However,
she always said that those days when her children were at home were
the good old days for her.
On March 23, 1985 Vivian
Cambre Perilloux passed away. She had lived 91 years, serving her family,
her community, her country and her God to the very best of her abilities.
She had seen all her children attend school, two sons earn Master's degrees,
one daughter earn a degree in Journalism. On March 25, 1985 she was
laid to eternal rest beside the husband with whom she had shared sixty-four
years of marriage and beside the grandson who had returned in a
coffin. I miss them all.
Copyright © John Sheldon Perilloux.
All rights reserved.
The music is "Always",
a MIDI file sequenced by RedSal.