Stitches in Time

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

The Great Depression is now remembered by a precious few, and foggily if that. Still, it remains a ready backdrop in conversations when accounts of deprivation abound.

Born in 1937, I have memories back to the outbreak of World War II. I remember first-hand accounts of folks barely getting by during much of the fateful era commencing in 1929, when masses had little, but persevered. Doing without taught us much, including dependence on resourcefulness.

Some of the greatest stories of all time are traced to the dismal era which finally ended one day when a guy was chasing a rabbit, and neither of them running.

Dr. Don Newbury

Women “practiced” medicine indoors while men in the great outdoors “made do” with baling wire and what is now called “duct tape. Actually, it was a similar tape often used during World War II, before there were many ducts to tape. For cuts, scrapes and such, mothers depended on “monkey blood” (later called Merthiolate and Mercurochrome). Vicks VapoRub liberally slathered helped respiratory ailments and dreadful-tasting Black Draught worked wonders opening whatever was stopped up.

Men didn’t corner the market on “making do.” Women were equal partners in matters of resourcefulness. Many made frocks and shirts from sacks containing flour and chicken feed, and a common household sound emitted from foot-powered treadle sewing machines. Much was made of it when students at school sported “store-bought” shirts and dresses instead of those made from bags.

My friend Carolyn Sanders mastered the sewing machine, making many items of clothing, uh, from scratch until recent years. In fact, her affinity for sewing came in mighty handy a few years back, when Bill–her hubby of 57 years–ripped his britches. (I know, I know. Purists would spell it “breeches,” but when pants needed repairing “back when,” we called ‘em “britches.”)

Years ago, Bill and Carolyn were in West Texas for a Saturday evening social event. Fully dressed for the ceremony, they decided to chow down at a well-known barbecue restaurant. Thankfully, they spilled nothing on their clothing, but on the way to their car, Bill felt a definite breeze on one leg.

He mentioned it, and Carolyn noticed immediately that his suit pants had a rip from pocket to knee. He had caught the pocket on some immovable object, and the rip resulted.

What to do? Carolyn–her resourcefulness in overdrive– realized there wasn’t time to buy new pants, but figured that she could use her sewing skills to save the day.

She spotted a Hancock Sewing Center nearby. They marched in, inquiring if she might borrow a sewing machine and hide Bill in a restroom.

The attendant accommodated them. Carolyn sat down at the already-threaded machine to make repairs, with Bill in the restroom dressed in shirt, tie and coat, but no pants.

Shortly, another couple entered the store. While the woman shopped, her husband went to the restroom, where Bill had some ‘splaining to do. Shortly, repairs were made, and the strong red thread in the machine lasted as long as the pants did. Laughs have been shared over the years by the Sanders family, the Hancock Store manager and a surprised West Texas cowboy happy to share his account of the time he encountered a pantless guy in the restroom.

Bill gets an A+ for resourcefulness, too. Part of his almost four decades in federal service was spent in Austin, where he saw President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson from time to time.

One day, Lady Bird sought help from Bill’s office to get five-gallon buckets painted yellow for decorating at an upcoming ranch party. “I don’t want canary yellow, sunrise yellow or sunflower yellow,” she instructed. “What I want is yellow-rose-of-Texas yellow.”

Undaunted, Bill went by a floral shop for a yellow rose. Then, he went to the paint shop, emphasizing that Lady Bird wanted this exact shade of yellow. Now that’s covering all the bases.

   Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, writes weekly and speaks regularly throughout Texas. Contact information: Phone: 817-447-3872. Email: Facebook: Don Newbury


One comment

  • My grandparents lived it, as did my father and aunt. They were resourceful and used anything that could be re-invented. It didn’t snow that much in Fort Worth, and they lived only a few blocks from school so that one never was believable.


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