I can see it now, my grandmother sitting by the old wood stove in our living room on cold winter nights pushing a “sock darner” into a sock so that she can mend holes. These days I look back and contemplate how much money she saved our family by mending socks so that we wouldn’t have to purchase more pairs.

The “journey” through the attic and closets of our family home of 49 years continues to yield memories and trains of thought of a way of life emerging from the Great Depression and the rationing years of World War II. In our home, the fact of rationing sugar, flower, clothing, and other wartime conservations was no problem because it had been happening all along. Our family had grown “Victory Gardens” (as initiated by the government to save produce) since they came to the new country from Switzerland in the 1800’s.

One day last week as I discovered two drawers full of dress patterns, I realized how many home-made dresses and other articles of clothing my mother and grandmother had made for themselves, as versus going to the local department store to purchase new clothing. In my mind, I can still hear the sound of the cadence of the old Singer sewing machine during the night as my mother stayed awake for hours making a new shirt for me to wear to school.

If it fit the next morning, I wore it to get on the bus that morning. I can still picture the shirts she made alike for my dad and me. How proud we would be, and SHE would be when we wore them into church together on Sunday mornings.

Around our place, nothing was wasted. To this day, Joyce, the kids and I cover up at night with old quilts and spreads containing blocks made from worn out clothing.

In some cases, material went full cycle. The shirts were home made; they wore out, and then were recycled into quilt blocks. There are still quilts in our possession that are reminders of school days; I look at them and see shirts that I once wore down the hallway of Geneva School and into the Sunday School classroom at church.

Patterns and sock darners are only the beginning of the “money stretchers” that I was raised on. I used to sit beside my grandmother and card sheep wool that would be stuffed into comforters. The only question I have these days is, “where did the wool come from?” Unfortunately, that question might be hard to answer since my aunt recently passed away.

Monday was wash day, every season of the year. The sound of clothes flapping in the Midwest breeze was a great sound in our little village on sunny days.

On bad weather days, there was no need (or did we think of) running to an electric clothes dryer to assist in the drying. There were old-fashioned wooden clothes drying stands where clothing were draped. What wouldn’t fit on the stands would be hung over the backs of chairs.

Due to the fact that we lived along a railroad, we would walk along the tracks and salvage coal that had fallen off of the train’s coal car. Thanks to the fact that my dad worked in a furniture factory, we would load trailer loads of scrap lumber that we converted into winter warmth in our home. Racks for making quilts, looms for making potholders, churns that converted cream from cows’ milk into home made butter, oil cloth for making ketchup, and strainers for making apple sauce were all everyday occurrences in a “poor home” where I thought that we were “normal.”

One of the most meaningful patterns ever created was the one that was presented to my dad the last day he worked at Smith Brothers Furniture. For years, he had laid patterns on material, traced them with chalk, and cut out the fabric with an old set of shears, fabric that would be upholstered onto chairs. On that last day, workers in the factory took an old cushion pattern and signed their names on it. It is by the wall in my study as a reminder of chaliced hands that worked themselves to the bone so that I could write and enjoy what I’m doing today. And that pattern reminds me of the much bigger pattern, principles of life that were traced and placed on my heart by a family with love, creating memories that lead me to believe that patterns, sock darners, and apple churners contributed much to the values I uphold today.