In a column earlier this autumn, I quoted from the privately printed autobiography the late Alex Middleton compiled for his family. As mentioned, Middleton arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1929, when he was 13, but his autobiography covers his earlier days in his homeland, as well as the period when he was growing up in Kings County.
Mr. Middleton’s nephew George Reid, who is a printer, was responsible for getting the autobiography into book form. I was talking with George recently, expressing surprise that anyone could remember so much detail about what had occurred on the farm more than half a century ago. “Alex was a born storyteller and a born writer,” George said in effect, “and he had a photographic memory to go along with these talents.”
George added that Middleton had a keen sense of humor. Reading his book, I found he often had something to laugh about when a relatively minor crisis hit his farm during the lean, hungry years of the 1930s. It wasn’t a period of levity, however. Far from it. Middleton says he found it “hard to believe that people were so poor” at the time. And, he writes, since money was scarce, people had to be creative when it came to getting the most out of worn out equipment and personal things.
On boots, for example: “No one thought of buying (them) if you could make the old ones do for a while longer. You could buy a half soling kit at the store for fifty cents. Also, many talented people soled (their boots) with strips of old tires. Since there was no such thing as tubeless tires, there were many discarded tubes around. These were converted into screen door springs (and) braces for holding pants up.”
If money for clothing was scarce in the lean 30s, people came up with a simple solution to replenish wardrobes, Middleton said. “All flour and sugar bags were saved to make clothing; in fact, there were places in Upper Canada where you could send and buy large quantities of this material. Underwear, shirts and children’s clothing were the most common uses.”
Automobiles were rare in Middleton’s neighborhood during this period since few people could afford them. There were a few farm trucks, however, and says Middleton, this meant there was an opportunity for an occasional night out. “Most of the people wanting to go into town on Saturday night (open night) paid a few cents and rode in the back of a big truck. This would be the only outing many would have.”