The Changing Times of IREVA WOLVERTON--from the Great Depression to the New Millennium
Matt Schiefer

Ireva Wolverton is a small woman, standing only four feet and ten inches tall. She is 78 years old and my grandma. She grew up in the rural community of Amble, Michigan. Ireva is a very hard-working woman. She and my mother operate a plant nursery and pick-your-own fruit farm . She was married almost 50 years before her husband, Laurence, died. Ireva is the proud mother of 5 children, 14 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. She feels she has been privileged to watch society progress. Life has not always been an easy ride for her, but it has certainly been an interesting one. She loves to play cards and read magazines. Grandma also bakes great pies, especially lemon! Ireva is a VIP with the post office due to the daily letters that she writes to friends and relatives. A friendly hello to Ireva might get you a thank you note in the mail the next day.

Ireva lived her youth during the Great Depression era. Her most vivid memories of the Depression were the low prices of things. She can remember a loaf of bread costing only a nickel and the price of a dozen eggs was only fifteen cents. She does not recall too much of a struggle for her family during the Depression. She believes this is because she grew up on a farm and so her family always had an ample supply of food.

When Ireva was growing up as a child, she was not surrounded by toys. Children were responsible for making their own fun. Ireva, along with her brother Bob and sister Jean, would play tag, hide and seek, and try to catch fireflies for entertainment. They did not have a television, but they would listen to radio programs such as "Amos and Andy". In fact, Ireva did not own a TV until she had already had three children. She can still recall the thrill of watching the beginning of the "Walt Disney" program in color for the first time. It was amazing, she said, watching, Tinkerbell set off the colorful fireworks in front of the Disney castle.

Ireva went to a one-room school house. It was only a mile walk for her, but others had up to a five-mile hike. There was not a hot lunch program at school, so everyone had a lunch pail and drank water from the hand pump outside. The school house was kept warm with either coal or donated wood. The teacher was paid a very small salary and would stay with one of the pupil's families. She would also be a frequent guest for supper and Sunday dinner. Today, it would be rare to invite a teacher to your house for supper. Ireva can remember that at recess time they would play kick-the-can or a game where they would throw a ball back and forth over a wall. She said that now that she thought about it, she does not know how that was ever fun.

My grandma said we must remember that, in the past, people used an outhouse for bathroom purposes, and toilet paper was either an old Sears catalog or corn cobs. She would have loved to have a roll of Charmin when she was growing up! Water was heated in a large tub for Saturday night baths, and everyone used the same water before it was tossed out onto the garden.

Another thing Ireva said that would be hard for my generation to understand would be the fact that she had one "Sunday" dress and one to two other dresses that were made out of old feed sacks. Girls did not wear pants--and blue jeans were unheard of . Her father and brother wore bib coveralls for the farm chores.

Holidays were much simpler in Ireva’s time too. For birthdays children usually had a cake and one present. The present for a girl was a homemade rag doll, and the boys usually got a toy that the father had either whittled or made from scrap lumber. On Christmas the big treat was an orange (only one) and nuts in the stocking. Usually a new feed-sack dress, some new underwear, and a homemade toy were the packages under the tree. The tree did not have lights, but once in a while had candles. Christmas decorations were all homemade. However, Ireva recalls that every Christmas was special and exciting.

Ireva's first job was cleaning houses in Flint, Michigan, for $1.50 per week. The house cleaning also included having supper made, laundry done, and possibly baby-sitting. She said that at the time a farm hand got $1.00 a day plus room and board.

Ireva has seen many developments of modern technology. She said that if anyone had mentioned airplanes flying daily around the world, it would not have been believed. There are many items that, for Ireva, were completely inconceivable: microwaves, VCR's, ATM's, hand calculators, computers (which she still refuses to learn how to use), more bathrooms for every house, washers and dryers, shopping malls, and especially the amount of clothing that everyone owns. She says that although her childhood and young adult life may have lacked many modern conveniences, it was a joyous time and less hectic and stressful. She said neighbors watched out and helped each other and knew everyone by name. She made a good point that many of us could meet our neighbor on a busy street and not even know who they are.

Ireva Wolverton has seen many changes in her 78 years, from the Great Depression to a new millennium, and most of the progress has been a blessing to her. She made me realize how much easier it is for us today, with all of our gadgets, but she also made me wonder about what improvements I will be able to witness in my years to come.

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