Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt suggesting the many surprises that are often sandwiched between the pages of old books has given me the opportunity to take a closer look at a little black book passed down to me by a grandaunt.
Oh, no, not THAT kind of “little black book.” This one at 4” x 7” is barely hanging on to its classification as a book. The black tape spine is dry-rotted and the back cover is cracked nearly in two. Pages are missing and the stitching has popped.
The book appears to have served as the precursor to the Time Clock, a place for employees of the Norfolk & Western Railway to sign in each day. Columns identified the worker’s occupation, name, signature, and time called to report. At the top of each page were blanks to fill in the specific division, yard, and date.
There are not many pages left, so probably any official business was removed leaving a handy little booklet for children to practice writing their names and for the lady of the house to jot down favorite recipes. When those few pages were full, recipes were scribbled on any scrap of paper available and inserted into the book along with a prayer that they wouldn’t spill out. Now over 80 years later the scraps of paper are yellowed and either very soft or very brittle.
I’m not sure who the “lady of the house” was as I recognize the handwriting of my great grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis, my grandmother Lucille Rucker Davis, and my grandaunts Violetta Davis Ryan and Velma Davis Woodring.
Their rural roots can be seen in the recipes for canning corn, beets, tomatoes, catsup, and grape juice. But it’s their sweet tooth that dominates in this collection: 2 recipes for spice cake, 2 for gingerbread, 2 for walnut cake, 2 for chocolate caramel cake, 2 for chocolate pies, a variety of other cakes (including Pound, Mystery, and 1-2-3-4 Cake), and – heaven help us – 5 recipes for fruit cake.
I can almost hear those fine cooks chanting, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” The required frugality of the Depression years is everywhere evident in the varied scraps of paper and old envelopes on which are recorded those treasured recipes.
In some cases, what the recipe was written on is more tantalizing than the recipe itself. Velma’s “Plain Cake” is on the back of the Eastman Photo Co. envelope that held some photos and negatives she had developed while living in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She developed one roll of film for 10¢ and 6 photos at 5¢ each for a grand total of 40¢. The slogan on the envelope reminds customers to “Remember with pictures. Have your best negatives enlarged.”
Another envelope contained two bills addressed to my great grandfather Walter Davis from Massanutten Power Corporation. The electric bill for December 1933 was $1.50. The water bill was for the same amount for the same time period. The buying power of $1.50 in 1933 equates to almost $27 today.
In many ways this book is a time capsule out of which spills elements of life during the Depression.
More surprises are spilling out at Sepia Saturday.