We are all worrying about prices and the cost of energy, aren’t we? We wonder how we will cope this winter. I feel for young families in 2022. But it has made me think what life was like.
I grew up in the 1950s when, post-war, there was little of anything in the shops as all factories had been making weapons for six years, so it took time for them to adapt machinery to produce household items.
My pram in 1945 was a hand down. This one pram had been used by all the babies in our large family. Only the rich had cars, so the price of petrol wasn’t an issue. We walked everywhere and, once we could ride a bike, we cycled.
For food, bread and dripping was a common snack. It gave us energy. My mother cooked stew and dumplings, liver casseroles and sausages. My father grew all our vegetables in his garden. The only outing was to the swimming pool or to play tennis in the nearby park. Otherwise, we played in the garden.
Soon after our marriage in 1965, with my husband sent on an unaccompanied posting, I moved back in with my parents and found a job. I was saving for the deposit on a house, so they took minimal housekeeping.
On his return, we bought a property – a modest two-bedroom bungalow. I worked for a year before I had my first baby, and two years later our second daughter was born. During the next three years, we witnessed houses being built on a field behind our bungalow. We sold up and bought a three-bedroom house.
When I think back to the 60s and managing housekeeping on an RAF Corporal’s wage – it wasn’t enough to call it a salary – I don’t know how I did it. I had five pounds a week to feed us and, later, to buy clothes for the children.
Luckily, I had worked full-time until I was six months pregnant, after which I was due maternity pay which lasted until my baby was two months old. The week after I left work, I recall a sense of foreboding, having lost my weekly pay of about £3.50.
My parents and my grandmother visited and brought boxes of food which were gratefully accepted. My parents-in-law also brought groceries on their visits. Interestingly, my mother-in-law worked in her local supermarket, and she and my father-in-law lived on food just out of date. Their gift box often included some of these.
While some of my contemporaries returned to some form of flexible working soon after their second child, it was practically impossible for me to do the same. My husband worked shifts that varied every week. By Thursday, I was often broke, and we ate beans on toast. Worse, I remember no money for the baby’s tights as autumn set in. But I had blankets.
When I look back, I have always worked my way out of financial hardship, even when I had toddlers. This 2022 cost of living crisis has reminded me how I scraped money together and worked at bringing a few pounds in every week, even saving some money.
For a start, I made all my children’s clothes, something that is easier with girls. They were the first children in our neighbourhood to have little shift dresses because my dressmaking skills were limited.
I bought material on markets and raided shops for remnants. I had empty matchboxes in a kitchen drawer into which I put one or two shillings each week. Labelled ‘holidays’, ‘Christmas’ and ‘birthdays’ they were a source of great amusement to my father-in-law who described me as ‘tight’.
My next-door neighbour had grown up in Oxford, and, by the time her little boy was six months old, she was leaving at six o’clock every morning to drive to work, leaving her baby with her mother. In our village and among the RAF community in Brize Norton, a working mother was rare.
Within a year, they sold their bungalow and moved closer to her parents. My friends from the National Childbirth Trust classes carried on meeting in each other’s houses for cups of tea and sharing ideas on how to make ends meet, our babies sitting with toys on the fireside rug.
When my daughters were aged four and two years old respectively, I took on an Avon round. I walked around my allocated area with the girls taking turns to sit in the pushchair. They would help push the next catalogue through the doors of all my customers.
My round included the RAF married quarters near home. Most of the married quarters were occupied by families fresh from overseas postings and, having had no access to shops selling cosmetics, they had become accustomed to Avon products.
By January 1973, I was expecting my third child, but I continued my Avon round, sometimes taking the car to move around areas on the large RAF base. There was a lot of interest in my third pregnancy and my two little girls who accompanied me often. I kept the round going until I was eight months pregnant by which time I had the thirst for earning.
Scanning the local paper, I found a job requiring the use of a car, possible for me because my husband walked to work. The job was managing a weekly free paper round delivering papers to the boys and paying them.
The thirst for earning continues but now focuses on writing.
What was your life like in the 1950s? Did you face financial hardships? How have you earned money when your children were young?
Your timeline is much the same as mine, except I grew up in Montreal, Quebec. I had no siblings, yet I can remember my Dad having to help out his parents, and put up mortgage money for his brothers. As he was the eldest, he took this on as a responsibility, not a burden. I soon learned to work either babysitting for neighbours, or delivering flyers. After I married in 1965, my husband and I tried hard to save for a home….lots of pasta and hotdogs lol. My Dad helped with the downstroke, but we paid him back. After having 4 children, I had to learn to budget and do without vacations or new furniture. My friends and I traded baby clothes and toys, we had many parties around a campfire for entertainment. Life was tough, but much simpler. I don’t envy young people starting out today, many more things to consider before getting married or living together, and especially starting a family or continuing education.
each generation has to learn, usually the hard way.
My experience growing up in the 50’s was similar. We grew up in a war time project in the middle of Vancouver that was built especially for soldiers snd their families after they came back from the war. Each household had at least one child. All the streets are named after battles or towns or ships. Vimy, Normandy, Mons erc. I lived at Malta and Dieppe. Most of us grew up going to school from grades1 to 12 and we atill keep in touch.
There were some pretty lean years in the 50’s. Most women were stay at home Mom’s but mine had to work and my brother and I would go down the street to be looked after by a neighour.
There was a really nice Chinese fellow who used to come around on Wed and Sat with his old truck full of fresh fruit and vegetables. The kids used to jump in the back of his van and hitch a ride down the street. I don’t recall anyone pocketing the odd apple but I am sure it happened.
There was a lot of ptsd in some homes. Drinking was the self prescribed remedy for many. At times the fathers were unable to work due to their trauma. Our homes were heated with oil and if you couldn’t pay the oil man it was a lot of cold nights scratching our names in the frost on the inside of the windows. Lots of blankets on the bed. I was lucky…we had a dog and she would like to sleep in bed with me so I was kept warm. The house would be freezing in the morning so we would dress quickly and get to school where it was warm.
Usually when the oil bill couldn’t be paid it coincided with the cupboards and fridge being bare. I know my family.wasnt the only family who were blessed with the compassion and generosity of our wonderful Vegetable man…his name was Yen Soo. Yen Soo kept a lot of families from going without through cold winters. We were to leave a list on the door of what we wanted and he would go to the truck to get it. Many times on days when there was no note on the door there would still be fruit and vegetables on the porch…..he knew. We also had a small market up the street also run by a Chinese family…the Wongs who looked after the families in the project by extending credit. The.Dad used to slip in some gum or a candy when either my brother or I would have to go up and ask to ‘put it on our tab please”. It was embarrassing but we didn’t have any options. No one talked about these things and so we kids thought we were the only ones having to go through these embarrassing moments. Then as adults we found out that many/most of our friends were doing the same. It is a wonder Yen Soo and the Wongs made a living!
As we got older money wasn’t quite so tight but still we would often be in the same situation of no money by the end of the week. Every Saturday night a butcher friend would go into the Army and Navy and Airforce Veterans Club where my Dad worked tending bar and give him 4 big juicy tenderloin steaks for the family! Sunday morning breakfast was the big meal of the week! Pan fried potatoes, a stuffed tomatoe and each of us got a whole tenderloin steak! By the following Friday we would be back to wieners or sausages wrapped in a slice of bread like a hotdogs or the staple in most homes ..Kraft Dinner with ketchup!. Sat was whatever you could scrape together out of the fridge. Usually a grilled cheese sandwich.
I think all of us in our late 60’s and 70’s could write a book about our lives in that era. I chuckle when I hear how people are so upset that they have to cut back on their Starbucks coffee or they can only go out to eat once or twice a week now….1st world problems! Hopefully people will learn not to take for granted how lucky and comfortable their lives have been. To the whiners I say “suck it up kids, you will make it!”
I was a toddler in the 1950s raised in a strict Catholic family. Needless to say eventually there were 6 of us. I married in the 70s and about one and a half years later I gave birth to my first son. Going back to work seemed unnatural. My mother prided herself as a good mother who was an at-home mom. So I felt strongly not to place my child in someone else’s care. Yet, financially this was close to impossible. My husband was not good with managing money and all I knew how to do was not to spend. Sometimes I look back with regret, maybe my children would have been better off with me working outside of the home. I finally got an education and attending college with my oldest. My husband and I divorced in the early years which put me in low income housing. Yet we survived. Today I am retired and I have less retirement and social security than all my friends but I am comfortable because I know how to live on less. raising children in difficult times is painful and scary but It did teach me and my children a lot. As my youngest son said, “mom I wouldn’t change a thing because my child enriched my life with wisdom.”
I will always cherish his words.
That one sentence from your son made it all worth it didn’t it!?
One year I had to work right through to Christmas Eve. There was still no money for extras and I didn’t even bother with a tree as my child was with there Dad. At the very last minute on Christmas Eve day something came up and they were staying with me over Christmas! I had her at work with me. She was about 10 years old. I apologized about not having a tree etc and she said ‘that’s OK Mom.”
She went to bed and I felt so guilty I stayed up all night and did the tree wrapped presents put up the stockings, decorated the mantle, got out the train display etc etc. The look on her face was my Chrismas present!
Years later when she was 19 we were both working with the same company. Christmas Eve came along and no tree no presents but this time we were going to my brothers the next day. We were driving home after the mall closed. Once again we were exhausted. She said ‘Mom, remember that time you stayed up all night and decorated the whole house.” I said “yes I do!” The next thing she said melted my heart….’That was just awesome Mom….but if you do it tonight I will disown you!” Yes that’s my girl!
We went home and straight to bed…lol.