LA COLONIA SURVIVING THE 1930's - ITALIANS IN NEW MEXICO - #3
by: f. g. lopriato y lopez
STRETCH IT OUT, MAKE IT LAST, MAKE IT DO OR DO WITHOUT.
STRETCH IT OUT, MAKE IT LAST, MAKE IT DO OR DO WITHOUT.
Bedsheets wear out when you use them enough. The women in Old Town during the 1930's did not have electric washing machines. They heated their wash water in pots, on a wood burning stove, in the winter, and outside in a galvanized tub and scrubbed everything on galvanized washboards. Whites faded, and very fast colors were boiled and scrubbed, inspected for wear and patched. Socks were darned and dingy colors bleached out and readied. If the sheets were still serviceable, the holes would be repaired or reboiled and rebleached for further use, often as curtains or dish towels. Lye was an indispensable household item. Sometimes bedsheets would be repaired and folded, both halves sewn together for reuse.
Flour came in cloth bags. Most people bought large quantities: twenty five, fifty and hundred pounds sacks, depending on how large a family they had to feed, and white flour tortillas were the fare three times a day. Corn tortillas were also used but not as regularly as wheat, sopaipillas were served at special meals. Besides that, flour was also used to thicken gravies, sauces took starch, chicken, cutlets, pork chops, each made better eating if breaded with white flour. The cloth bags in which the flour came was probably more sought after than the flour itself. With a little boiling, bleaching, and dying, those bags became beautiful dresses and blouses for little girls, shirts, a hanky, slips, and panties. Cloth, not gold, was the big thing to most Old Town women. Most women could sew. The luckiest had pedal operated machines, but most sewed by hand.
A man's suit could become clothing for his children, and the same went for women's clothing and when they had served their time, the same thing might end up as part of a patchwork quilt or a throw rug.
Homemade laundry soap, and homegrown almost everything, even the dyes that they used made the need for money not as pressing but a hell of a lot more work for the women of Old Town in the 1930's. Little did they realize it was just basic training for what was ahead and that some day those who survived would look back on those days with nostalgia.
FDR's WPA Projects did a lot of good, despite the fact that the managers of those funds used the bulk of the money to feather their own nests first and then saw to it that those who could do them more good, socially, politically and financially got what they wanted, but, when those funds finally got down the common people. Any job was better than none in a money hungry world that, at last, found a way to make Old Towners need money. As I said before, we were as self-relying for most of our necessities and financial needs were kept at a bare minimum.
Now, you tell me if what they came up with does not rate, at least an E for effort on the confidence game of politics. There were just over a hundred thousand people in all of New Mexico, the CCC camps did a lot of good planting trees, and dressing up the landscape, there were jobs there for many people and most of them trying to make the transition from farming to business or something that would enable them to fit into their changing world.
There were no roads in the entire state, the WPA built several large dams, in fact most of the dams you see now in New Mexico are WPA projects, and Highway 66 from one end of the state to the other was a WPA project, there were many jobs there, but most of these jobs were being filled by people who were brought in to do the work. New Mexico was high on FDR's priority list. but New Mexicans were joining the armed services and the National guard in order to help their families make ends meet. Someone noticed this and made a fuss about it.
The next thing Old Towners knew, "Singing Teachers" were making the rounds weekly to teach grade school students songs that were already part of their folklore. And the Plaza in Old Town was having a very imposing and out of place stone wall built around the plaza in Old Town. It did not last long, and for the short time that it stood, it cost more to maintain than anything else. Other than being used as an emergency makeshift rest room by migrants who could not make it to a real rest room, it was cleaned up and maintained once a year at Fiesta time. Other than that it was avoided even by church goers who would walk around it rather than cut through even on cold days. Even the stone mason who built the wall hated it, but could not talk his supervisors into doing what the Old Town Plaza has now.
The project that really took the cake, was the WPA Outhouse Brigade. Old Towners didn't live beyond their means and their means were not very demanding to begin with. They made conscious efforts to minimize them more all the while they also made a show of their better materialism to put up a prosperous front. This tempted the controllers to reason that if they could not control the intake they would control the output. The WPA brought in the Outhouse Brigade. Everybody had to have a New State of the Art outhouse, built by "El Diablo a Pi‚. " They made it sound so official that some still think it was a felony not to comply. The city was expanding and Old Town would be incorporated making "City Water " and indoor plumbing mandatory, the new outhouses did no more than tear down the old outhouse and replace it with a prefabricated one of their own, over the existing hole, but, at last, someone had pulled something on Old Town. The word for outhouse used in old town was "Comun" pronounced "Ko MOON" from Commode." The Outhouse Brigade was called "Los Communistas." (The Communists.)
The 1930's were lucky years in a lot of ways for Old Towners. Mainly because of the Italian influence in the town. Italians had been the real leaders in the community, and why not? They don't make a big hoopla about themselves or their accomplishments, no matter where they end up. The segment of Italians who chose New Mexico as their new home left indelible footprints in the sands, not just of this state, but in states surrounding New Mexico and as far as Washington, D. C.. Not just lately, but historically. If walls could talk, they'd do it and be fluent in Wopajo. (all languages) ////fglyl