True Tales of Life In the Old Days - Part 10, Recollections of Gladys True, A Vintage Vignette

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True Tales of Life In the Old Days - Part 10
Recollections of Gladys True

A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
October 4, 2009

Long-time Madison resident Gladys McFarlen True in her book “My Life from Wagons to Rockets” described her high school years at Gurley, Alabama. Excerpts from Gladys’ book are given below, continuing the series about her life experiences in the early 1900s.

“At the school in Gurley, Home Economics and Manual Training were taught in a separate little building from the main building. In Home Economics, we chose partners, and I got a girl from a big family who was an excellent cook. But she was not a bit interested in cooking. She just wanted to get a unit of credit because she was a senior. She just quietly let me do all the cooking. I could not cook a thing and never had cooked. I had helped my mother clean house, but no cooking. Here I was, away from home at fourteen years old, trying to be a big shot, and I was having a hard time. In those days, companies sent generous supplies of cocoa, baking powder, and other samples to schools. Cocoa was new; we had bitter chocolate before. We had Snowking Baking Powder. I do not think they make Snowking now. We used Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, just like they have on the counter today. A box was a nickel in those days and now it is fifty cents for the same size box. We had free samples of Pet Milk, Carnation, pure lard, meal, and flour.”

“Manual Training was the class that taught the boys woodworking, and I do not know what else. The only thing I ever saw them make was a magazine rack. The boys in Manual Training had to eat what we cooked, and they gave us our grades. I never understood why they graded us. My partner had a boyfriend in that class.”

“The first thing we cooked was doughnuts. She was reading me the recipe. She was looking out the window towards the other class, and read ‘three tablespoons of baking powder.’ I did not know what a tablespoon was. At my house, I called it a big spoon! I asked her, ‘Is that a big spoon?’, and she answered ‘Yes.’ I looked around and got the biggest spoon I could find, which was one of those BIG spoons that we cook with today. I put three tablespoons (using this big spoon) heaping with baking powder in those doughnuts. My partner said that baking powder would make the doughnuts rise, and I wanted those doughnuts to be perfect. Well, I dropped them in that hot grease and they just disappeared!”

“The boys were eating hot doughnuts from other places, and there were none coming off of our stove. I want to mention here that we had electric stoves, which was uptown in 1928 when I went to Gurley. Our teacher came over to our stove to see what was wrong. She said, ‘We’ll do this over to see what went wrong.’ She read the recipe and I mixed it. When she got to three tablespoons of baking powder, I went to the drawer and took out that big spoon. She began laughing, and said, ‘Is that what you used to measure the baking powder?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ She laughed and laughed, then she showed me a tablespoon, a teaspoon, and all the measurements, and was very precise. The boys ate the doughnuts that I made the second time. Later, when I made biscuits, I had to make them several times also. It took me two or three days. The boys would just throw them out in the yard and laugh. I did not learn to cook from that teacher, but I learned lots of other things.”

Gladys did of course learn to cook for her family, but her experiences in school were not unlike many of us have when we encounter new terminologies or conditions beyond our prior circumstances. While the details were perhaps different from our own experiences, her way of telling the stories by laughing at herself gives insight into the wonderful personality that was Gladys True of Madison.

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