Volume VII, No. 4, Summer 1980
A LOOK AT THE OLD-FASHIONED MORAL CODES
By Melinda Stewart and Kathy Long
What would the neighbors think? I lived, breathed and ate by that expression,'' said Coralee Tyre. "Anything we did it was 'What would the neighbors think?' It dealt with every aspect in our life. The moral codes were based on the ten commandments, but from there on they were based on what the community and our parents thought." Children soon learned right from wrong, concern and respect for their fellow man and socially acceptable behavior according to the community's opinion by hearing their parents repeat this expression.
Obviously, the family played the most important role in molding the children's morality by passing down the social rules of their ancestors because many times people lived in isolated areas. The importance of other influences varied in different communities. Since the moral code was based on what the neighbors thought, the town and church were very important in many places since these were the only places that people had contact with others outside of their family. School also added to the youth's education in morality although its role seemed less significant.
Large families were quite common at a time when the strenuous farm work required many hours of hard labor. The larger the family, the less strain exerted on each family member. Also, no efficient birth control devices had been developed. Ruby Hooper explained, "When you got married, having children was one of the things expected of you. They didn't know what to do to keep from it. There was no such thing like the pill in those days."
"Home births were also common," remembered Lois Roper Beard. "Instead of going to the hospital (for in many areas there weren't any hospitals), my mother just sent us kids away from home, and the .doctor and the granny mamas came in and helped her have the baby."
Even though they operated without a license at that time midwives were experienced in delivering babies, and could be depended upon, whereas doctors were often unavailable.
"Many homes had one child or maybe more that didn't belong in the family, and they'd be raised up with the family," Coralee said. "In the 1930's there were children's homes, and that sort of thing where kids went if the mother had to work because the father died or left the family. She couldn't earn enough to pay a babysitter in the daytime and support the kids at night and so they had these places. The mother paid the home to keep the kids. She could come and visit them every other weekend and take them home two weekends a year. Lots were sponsored by churches like the Catholic church. These weren't just orphans. Some were kids from one parent homes also. Much earlier than that there was the time they brought children in from New York city and sent them out on trains to different localities. Many homes had a child in their home that they had never heard of before."
Regardless of whether the children were born to the parents or taken into the family as orphans, the parents shared an added responsibility of rearing a well behaved, respectable and hard-working citizen. Discipline proved quite effective in raising them in the right direction. Generally, as the years have progressed, parents have become less strict.
"THE MORAL CODES WERE BASED ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, BUT FROM THERE ON THEY WERE BASED ON WHAT THE COMMUNITY AND OUR PARENTS THOUGHT."
"I'd say seventy-five percent of today's parents do a pretty good job," Ashford Hough said. "The other twenty-five percent mess the whole thing up. I think the kids growing up today have higher ambitions. Kids of today aren't meaner, they're just not controlled."
Pearl Massey remembered, "I always felt like we were disciplined rather strictly, but children were busy--work busy, and they knew what they were supposed to do. If they didn't, they were told right away. Everybody had their part to do, for otherwise, the family wouldn't get the work done. I think discipline was much more strict sixty years ago."
Discipline was administered as it was needed, but practically every family had its own special methods. Pearl continued, "At my house it was the switch. My daddy didn't switch very often but when he did, you knew you had been switched. He didn't have to do it very much because we knew that he would, and so, if we didn't want a switching around our bare legs, we'd better stay on the straight and narrow."
Ashford commented, "The rules came in a bulk. We were taught right from wrong, and it was made plain enough for us and we knew not to go wrong and get caught."
Ruby recalled, "It was foolish of us but my brother would tease me and make me mad and then we'd fight. Dad would tie my brother up to the well, and then I was always tied to the gate post. We'd have to stay there until he was ready for us to get loose. Usually he'd just tie us by the arm. He wasn't mean about it, but that's the way he had of punishing us.
"I was not the best child when I was growing up--I was decent and all that, but I could think of things. My brother and I had to cross the river to get to the country school. If the weather was cold but the ice wasn't on, we would cross in the boat, and I'd always know how I could dunk my brother. I knew I could run and jump out of the boat real quick and give it a shove, and then he'd turn a flip-flop over in the water. You know in October and November that wasn't funny, and my Dad would usually take care of that point. I'd always get thrashed for it, but I thought it was worth it."
The father wasn't always the one to hand out discipline. The mother often had her say as well. Ruby continued, "I really believe that Mother handled most of the everyday mischief unless it got really bad. If Mother promised that she was going to whip you, you better look out. That was coming if it was a week later. Sometimes she'd be too busy at the time but she'd make it a point."
"Well, I'll tell you," Mabel Wilson said, "I got the razor strap used on me. Mama had a little piece of rawhide that came out of a bay's whip. It was just about half as big as my little finger. She'd use that sometimes. It'd get lost, but later on, she'd find it."
The amount and severity of discipline in the home also had a considerable influence on a child's behavior when he or she was old enough to attend school. "You don't have to teach too long before you know if there is discipline in the home or not," Ella Hough said. "We were taught if we didn't mind the teacher at school we caught it at home. Now, the parents stick up for the children instead of the teacher. Teachers can't now, but when I was teaching, we were allowed to switch the kids.
"I ALWAYS FELT LIKE WE WERE DISCIPLINED RATHER STRICTLY, BUT CHILDREN WERE BUSY--WORK BUSY, AND THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO DO."
Discipline in the classroom was not a big problem since children were taught to be respectful from the time they were born. Often watching the teacher use the ruler or switch on a student made an impression on the rest of the class. Pearl remembered, "Before I got to the eighth grade I saw men teachers whip grown boys for disobeying a school regulation. They might just as well whipped me because I was just as shook up when it was over as if they had. It wasn't as bad, but it shakes little girls to see boys stand up and get a whipping. Of course, the boys would try to show that they weren't hurting. In the school where I attended, discipline with the girls wasn't any problem. We knew that when the teacher said for us to do anything, we were to do it, and if anything was said not to be done, it was not to be."
"For discipline, the teacher would make them stand on the floor for a certain amount of time; or sit up front on a bench," Dorothy McMicken remembered.
Many times teachers didn't need to discipline children for other reasons. Sam Bradford said, "Some of us learned that in a chicken yard there's a pecking order. One old hen pecks all the rest of the chickens, because there's one that pecks her, so she pecks the rest and they in turn peck others. It starts at the top. It was the same on the school ground. It was nothing at all if a boy didn't behave for another boy to call him down which meant out of sight of the school grounds with the two fellows squaring off and fighting it out with their fists. If the boy who was misbehaving began to get the best of him, usually someone jumped in to help set him straight. A lot of discipline was unofficial and you would not even recognize it. It wouldn't be permitted at all if the teacher knew it."
Much like modern children, the students often got in trouble by pulling pranks. Ruby said, "We always got tickled, no matter if we had something to laugh about. We had seats that were homemade. If the boys wanted to be mean they'd put a pin in the end of their shoe and stick it up through the seat and had us almost jump out of the seat. Of course, they'd get us in trouble. You can't help but jump, and when you jump, you have to say why you jump. They were mischievous."
The school was probably not as strong an influence as the family and the community because it reflected the wishes of the community in who would teach, what was taught, and how to handle discipline. Ella said, "I think they were stricter in their morals in school than they are today. They felt like it was some of their business to teach morals, and now I think it's more 'teaching is my job' and the morals left to the parents. When I was going to school and later when I was teaching, they'd always hire a teacher that they thought had good moral character. They would try to get that over to their pupils."
"We had school only six months a year back at that time," Ashford remembered. "of course, we learned faster than they do now. It was nice. We didn't have so much to contend with. They only had one teacher each year."
Dorothy brought in, "They did have prayer in school, our school opened in the morning with some hymns, 'Blessed Assurance' and some of the real old ones. Every morning we sang."
Living on a farm in an isolated area interferred with the children's education. "We were always late," Ruby said, "because we'd have to go out some mornings and look for the calves. We had free range and maybe they wouldn't be right handy. I had a school teacher who was teaching his fifty-fifth year of school. He'd always say, 'Better late than never, but it's better never late.'"
Many rural young people didn't get to go through high school because the one room schoolhouse in the community would go only through the eighth grade and there wasn't transportation to the high school. Pearl said, "In the early times it seemed to me like the girls got to come to high school when the boys didn't get to. The boys needed to work more than the girls, and the family couldn't send both so they sent the girls instead. The boys maybe could make their way without the education better than the girls."
"ANYTIME YOU HAVE A CHILD IN THE WORLD, IT'S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO LEAD THAT CHILD IN A CLEAN MORAL LIFE, IN A CLEAN PHYSICAL LIFE, AND IN A CLEAN SPIRITUAL LIFE,
But many, like Mabel, had no opportunity to go. "I finished the eighth grade, I never went to high school. After I graduated I studied at home some, and then I went to work in town."
School was regarded as a privilege, and only those children whose families could afford the expense of text books, tuition and transportation to school could attend. Country kids also needed finer, more fashionable clothes to attend high school than they needed in the country schools. Lois explained, "In that day in time, the city child had a tendency to look down on a country child. They thought they were not dressed well enough."
Ruby remembered, "Of course my mother was old-fashioned. She knitted our hose, and if there was anything I detested, it was yarn stockings to my knees, and then your long underwear came past them. Many times I'd go to church, I'd sneak a pair of hose, and before I'd get to church, I'd put them on, and, of course, our dresses were longer then. We wasn't bothered with showing our underwear or our short socks. Our dresses come down, but Mother definitely thought that in the wintertime after the first frost, we had to have yarn stocking on. She knitted our gloves and she would spin wool for our gloves and hose on her wheel."
Coralee said, "We had to wear long brown stockings my mother made us, and we thought our parents were awful to make us wear them because the other kids didn't. But when you walk two and a half miles in the snow or the rain you better have your legs covered up with something. We were not allowed to wear any kind of pants because that took away from our femininity, and we just didn't do it. Even in high school they didn't let us. And since they had three girls before any boys, we girls had to do field work in our dresses, and we'd get our legs all scratched up in the field."
Pearl agreed, "Women's pants were unheard of in my generation." Clothing other than dresses was permitted only when participating in a sport. "In basketball,'' she continued, "we wore bloomers great big pleated bloomers. Finally, when I was a senior in high school, I had a pair of knickers. They were made out of something similar to denim except they were khaki color. They looked like riding britches--swung out around the hips and got tighter at the knees."
As important as teaching how to behave, parents also taught their children how to work hard, and the farm life presented a great opportunity for experience.
Coralee said, "Parents taught their children to believe that work was a matter of survival, and that idle hands were the devil's workshop. You were to work six days a week, and then on the seventh, which was Sunday, you go to church. You could play games on Sunday afternoon, but you almost felt guilty about it because you had worked six days, sometimes almost until midnight, and you couldn't laugh or talk while you were working. If you did, it was assumed that you weren't working.
"We'd get up at like five in the morning, get dressed, and while my mother cooked breakfast, we'd carry water from the spring a quarter of a mile up a steep hill, and then we'd milk the cows in an open lot. It didn't matter if it was snowing, icing, warm or whatever, we still had to sit on the milk stool in this open lot and milk the cows and carry in wood so they'd have wood all day. We'd feed and water the chickens, and any other animals, come in, eat breakfast and walk to school. The minimum we'd walk was two and a half miles to school, and after we started attending a different school, we had to walk four miles. School started at nine and let out at four o'clock. Then we would walk home, and we had to rush home or our parents would be mad at us because we didn't get home on time.
"YOUNGSTERS WERE NOT BROUGHT UP WITH THE IDEA. THAT THE IDEAL IS IDLENESS, THE IDEAL AND THE FUN WAS WORK."
"We had to change our clothes quickly because we only had two or three outfits of clothes. We'd try to make a dress do two or three days because to wash we had to carry every drop of water that was used up this big steep hill in a bucket, and you can imagine filling two big tubs with water by carrying it up the hill. That was a lot of hard work. So we didn't get our clothes dirty unless we had to.
"After changing we started carrying water again and went to the pasture to get the cows. Sometimes they'd be a mile away because it was open range and much of the land wasn't fenced. We'd listen for the cowbells, locate the cows and bring them home. When we got them home, we'd milk them. We'd get the milking done and bring the milk in, carry in wood and then pick up chips to use for kinling in building the fire. Then we'd carry out the ashes from the wood stove, feed and water the chickens again, gather the eggs and shut the chickens up for the night so the coons, hawks and wolves couldn't get to them.
"Then we'd come in and eat supper. Well, by then, we'd be so tired, we'd just think we'd fall asleep at the supper table. We'd be nodding and our folks would say, 'Wake up now and get the dishes done.' We'd be so tired we'd think we were going to fall asleep over the dishpan. We'd wash the dishes and then do our homework. Well, by then we were so exhausted we really couldn't think to study. There was only one kerosene lamp in our one-room cabin, and we had to sit right beside it in order to see at all.
Sam Bradford said, "Youngsters were not brought up with the idea that the ideal is idleness. The ideal and the fun was work. Actually it's difficult for young people now to understand that hard work is fun. It was a lot of fun to haul logs to the sawmill, to watch that mill chew those logs up into lumber.
"Animals are pleasure. Feeding cattle, feeding pigs, feeding and caring for horses. People do that now for recreation. We did it then because it was a job to do, but it was fun.
"We had to constantly hunt, to keep fresh meat. And that was work, it wasn't just fun. It was work hunting squirrels, hunting raccoons, hunting 'possums. 'course we hunted skunks because their pelts were worth money."
Lois added, "We weren't poor people. We had plenty but the plenty just wasn't handed to us."
Of course, children had responsibilities besides doing their share of the work and keeping out of mischief. "School attendance was not required, but you went to church on Sunday. That was a must," Ruby said.
"The church had a lot of influence on the moral codes," Ella explained. About the only place we met was at church and young people's meetings. We had Sunday School and church. In the Methodist church in our community we had Epworth League, which was where the young people met. All of the people in our neighborhood had large families. There were nine in my family and eight in my husband's family. Our neighbors and I would get together to go to these young people's meetings, and just have a house full of young people.
"I think 'morality codes' meant following the instructions in your Bible. That's the basis of our moral codes. If you'll read and study your Bible you'll find the foundations. Parents didn't always mention the Bible when they disciplined their children, but they believed that whatever it was was wrong because of the Bible."
"PARENTS DIDN'T ALWAYS MENTION THE BIBLE WHEN THEY DISCIPLINED THEIR CHILDREN, BUT THEY BELIEVED THAT WHATEVER IT WAS WAS WRONG BECAUSE OF THE BIBLE,
As a general rule everyone in the community went to church regularly. Ella continued, "We didn't have many people who didn't go to church. The churches were pretty well taken care of. Never has everybody been perfect. There's always been some confusion in everyone's life and some just can't toe the line."
"Somebody was always trying to get the people who didn't go to church to go," Mabel said.
Pearl said, "The community that I grew up in, religion played a big part. My family of a generation before my parents were very religious and church was one of the main things in their lives. Whenever they went anywhere, they went to church. Church wasn't every day. It was once a month because the minister didn't live in the community and the church couldn't afford to pay him enough money to come every week. He'd have four different churches and he'd go to each one once a month. We were about two miles from two different churches of the same faith and we could go to either."
Ashford added, "We didn't have church every week, we had it once a month, but we tried to have Sunday School every week. We wouldn't try to have Sunday School in the wintertime, but we would in the summer."
He continued telling of other meetings their church had. "When I was growing up we had three churches in a three mile area and one was a Methodist, one was a South Methodist and one was a Baptist. When the weather was decent these three groups would get together on a Sunday afternoon and have singings, and that went over well. We'd do one church one Sunday and another the next Sunday. The denomination didn't mean anything. We didn't squabble over which church could get you to heaven. We practiced and everyone got good out of it. It helped the entire neighborhood to kind of make us closer together. And one denomination didn't sing any better than the others."
Religion was the only social activity,'' Coralee said. "Going to church on Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday evening was about the only place to go in our particular neighborhood because it was so isolated."
Ruby said, "I belonged to the Church of God down at Bennett Spring which is yet there. When I was growing up they were very strict but they aren't anymore. They thought that wearing makeup was not good. You shouldn't have short hair. You shouldn't anything. I remember my aunt gave me a necklace. I had never had one and I wore it to church. The pastor's daughter said, 'Did you know it's a sin to wear that?' and I said, 'No, I don't think it is. It's not hurting you or me.'"
"The main social life in the community was the church and walking girls home. Most people didn't have cars and so they'd walk them to church even out in the country. It's kind of romantic walking to church in the moonlight or even in the dark," Coralee added.
However, boys did not usually sit with their girl friends during the church service until they had been going with each other for a while. Sitting together often signified that a boy and girl were getting serious.
Many times the older kids would find something to do together following a morning church service. "We'd meet some place, like Bennett Springs," Ruby said. "It didn't used to be like it is now. It was an isolated place. Maybe we'd buy a watermelon. We'd sometimes swim. The boys could have their pool and we'd have ours. That is, the boys could have a different place in the river to swim but not with us. This shows I was a mean youngster I guess, but we'd sneak out where the boys were swimming and we'd hide their clothes. I don't think they ever done us that way. There was one or two girls about my age, and we all had ideas, and they weren't good ones sometimes. We never let the folks know we did that or that would be the end of us.
"SHE'D SAY, 'BEHAVE YOURSELF,' AND THAT WAS AS FAR AS SHE'D GO, SOMETIMES BEHAVING YOURSELF COULD COVER QUITE A LOT OF GROUND."
"I can't think that the boys were as fast as they are now. They were more bashful, backward. Parents were stricter about dating back then, and my folks always picked out someone for me to marry that I wouldn't have had at all. I did not know why they did that, either. They would actually be boys that were not very nice. I figured there was no use in telling them."
It was very important for a girl to have her father's permission to date a boy. And almost everyone was given a definite curfew. "I think the most embarrassing time was after my beau had taken me home," Ruby said. "Dad was supposed to be in bed but he wasn't always, and he'd yell, 'Ruby, time to go to bed!' That's kind of embarrassing, but I didn't tell Dad what to do, he told me what to do. Some parents had the rule that you don't kiss one another until you're engaged, but that didn't work. We were slow then. Let's put it that way. I think in all walks of life, we were slow."
Sex education was unheard of years ago, and it is still difficult for the older people to Speak openly about it. "It's hard for kids of today to understand how things were back when I was a little girl," said Lois. "I believe I will start with the fact that things were hush-hush more than they are now. Everything now is out in the open. For instance, my mother gave birth to eight children, and even though we girls were grown when the younger ones were born, the subject of pregnancy was never mentioned to us. Everybody was just as still and quiet about it. Although Mother put on her big 'Mother Hubbard' we never let on like we were going to have a little baby sister or brother."
Ruby agreed, "I really think the the youngest of children now know more than I did when I got married. They didn't teach sex education or anything like that. When my own girls came along, we sat down and talked about the birds and the bees, but my mother! She'd say, 'Behave yourself,' and that was as far as she'd go. Sometimes behaving yourself could cover quite a lot of ground. I think I know now what she meant, but back then I wasn't too sure. I think sex education is good. I think perhaps more girls get in trouble for not knowing than those that do know."
"What they did was put the fear of God in you," Coralee said. "They figured if they led you around blindfolded, and you didn't see the world and didn't come in contact with evil, then evil couldn't affect you. It'd keep you out of trouble. They attempted to shield you, and then all of a sudden when you were about seventeen, you were plunged into the world and expected to deal with it. That's pretty tough on a kid. If a boy touched you--whatever that was--you were going to get pregnant. They didn't define touching, and they didn't explain to you anatomy or physiology or passion or anything. They just told you if you let a boy touch you, that you would get pregnant, and you were going to immediately be cast into the deep pits of hell.
"The guys were always trying to talk the girls into having sex by saying, 'Everybody is doing it,' and yet they wanted to marry a virgin. They had a double standard then, worse than they have now because guys could get by with it. People would just kind of humorously smile and say, 'Well, he is high-spirited,' or 'He's full of life,' if a guy was out flirting with all the girls whether he was married or not. But if the woman did that, she was a loose woman."
"THE COMMON SAYING WAS, 'THEY PUT OUT THEIR CROP BEFORE THEY LAID OUT THEIR FENCE."
Lois said, "If a girl became pregnant, she had a child. Now that was all there was to it. The boy led a free life and got off scot-free, while the girl was disgraced."
Though most of the blame and hardship fell on the girl, the boy did not always come out blameless. Sometimes if the boy would not live up to his responsibilities, the girl's father might force the issue. Shot gun weddings did sometimes happen. Coralee explained, "The his shotgun, and he'd march down to the boy's house and say, 'You're going to marry my daughter or else. You ruined her honor and no one else will have her because she is pregnant, and you're going to marry her.'"
According to Mabel, "He might also add, 'Whether you stay together or not is up to you, but you are going to get married and give that child a name.'" The common saying was, "They put out their crop before they laid out their fence."
"Sometimes when young unmarried girls got pregnant and had no prospect of getting married," Ruby said, "the folks would hide them in the house until the little one came."
"You were black-listed in many people's opinion if you had an illegitimate child," Mabel added. "A mother of an illegitimate child usually just stayed at home with her folks and stayed away from people because she was ashamed."
"People who were not careful about their language would say the girl was 'knocked up.' Nice people would say 'in the family way,'" Coralee said.
"If she did go out in public," Lois said, "she was always looked down upon as a person that had had that happen. She could do anything she wanted to, but people would say, 'She's not what she's letting on like she is. Look there, a few years ago, she had that young'un.' People would shun her. They wouldn't treat her like everyone else. We have had illegitimate children ever since Bible times. We know that, but in the early 1900's, she was finished forever if she ever had a child. Maybe in later years, she might marry. There was a difference in people's reactions just like there is today when things happen that you don't want. Some of the parents would be mad and abusive to the girl and others would just accept it."
Coralee said, "The only work a mother of illegitimate child could do would be housework for people who had ailments and couldn't take care of their home, and they would be hired out maybe two dollars a week. A many woman stayed for two dollars a week. Sometimes they would be allowed to take the baby with them, and other times their mother would have to take care of it, but it was pretty rough."
In the early years there were few other alternatives to saying at home. "You've made your bed, now lay in it," was all the sympathy the girl got. But as the years progressed, homes for unwed mothers and adoption agencies were established to give such mothers of illegitimate children the chance for a better life. "The girl would be sent away to a distant city before she was pregnant enough for it to show," Coralee said. "The parents would say, 'Well, she wasn't feeling well. We sent her to a drier climate.' Maybe she was having lung trouble, but they certainly didn't admit that she was pregnant. She would stay with a relative until she had the baby, or she would go to an unwed mother's home until she had the baby and it was adopted out. They tried to keep it a big secret because it was a blemish on her character so that no decent man would ever have her as his wife because they always expected to marry a virgin."
"THE NEIGHBORS WEREN'T SO CLOSE, WE DIDN'T HAVE TELEPHONES AND WE JUST DIDN'T GET TOGETHER TOO OFTEN, TODAY WE HAVE SO MUCH COMMUNICATION THAT THE NEIGHBORS' IMMORALITY IS ALL ABOUT US."
"If a girl was immoral, it was soon recognized that she was immoral," Sam said. "It wasn't an open punishment, it was just a life-long stigma on the girl. The discipline of the girls was pretty much the opinion a girl had to maintain concerning herself, or else she was just sort of a lost cause, a lost dog for the rest of her life. If she were immoral, there was no way of preventing pregnancy in those day, and she first wound up with having a baby. Then she had to live with that the rest of her life, and she could never be anything different. That's the way it was, and I think that knowing that would happen was one of the strong points that kept a lot of girls strict. They knew that there was no come back.
"You can hide now, but in those days you couldn't. So you see the discipline was part of the life itself. The way the people looked at life and that philosophy that it was a man's part to protect the woman--that women were not his victims. If a boy considered women as his victims, then he was run out of the country, or he might be found out in the woods full of buckshot. The community just wouldn't tolerate it, for a boy that was immoral had no place in these Ozarks. It was a boy's responsibility to protect the girls. That is an old code that goes way back to the day of chivalry--the fact of men to protect women. That was even a part of the discipline that was carried on at school. It was demanded that we boys respect the girls. A lot of the behavior requirement was established by, shall we say, public opinion and there was no question of hiding. There was just no place to hide."
"They didn't call them rapists," Coralee said. "They called them 'people who took advantage of a girl.' They violated her honor. The men in the family, or close friends, would get together, and if this guy really did force her, they bent him over the rain barrel and cut his testicles off. That happened lots of times. If course, there was a danger of them hemorraging to death. Lots of times they'd put turpentine on the cut to stop the bleeding. That certainly didn't help the pain." Though this was usually done quietly, Coralee continued, "The ladies knew about it because a husband would tell it to a wife and she'd tell her friend. Grandpa told Granny about it several times.
"There was a lot of gossip and you were known by the company you kept. Reputation was important, very important. Our parents would rather we wouldn't run with immoral people. They'd try to advise us not to. We sometimes had some in our neighborhood that our parents didn't want us to associate with. My parents would say, 'If you lie with dogs, you're going to get fleas.'"
Mabel said, "There was usually two groups in the community--the nice group and the fast group. The nice group wouldn't have anything to do with the fast group and the fast group didn't care." The nice girls simply ignored them.
Because community pressure to do right and be accepted was tremendous, and the moral codes were influenced mainly by the community, "People who violated its moral codes were ignored by the decent people," said Coralee.
"What the community thought was very important," Ella added. "They say a good name is more to be desired than great riches. The people back then wanted to keep a good name. I really believe people did worry about their reputations more than they do now, or they wouldn't do the things that they do now. People didn't want the neighbors to get a bad opinion of them. It was very important to maintain a good name."
"THERE ARE MORE TEMPTATION NOW, ALL PEOPLE ARE GOOD PEOPLE IF THEY'RE GUIDED RIGHT, THEY'RE JUST IN THE WORLD AND WANT TO DO SOMETHING TO BE NOTICED BECAUSE THEY DO WHAT THEY DO FOR SHOW, NOT TO BE MEAN,"
In different communities the importance of what the neighbors thought varied. Some communities like Dorothy's were isolated and the importance of the neighbors' immorality was less significant. Dorothy said, "My parents would just say it was wrong, but we weren't in close contact with one another like we are now. The neighbors weren't so close, we didn't have telephones and we just didn't get together too often. When we got together that wasn't the topic of conversation. Today we have so much communication that the neighbors' immorality is all about us."
In other more populated areas, like Mabel's, the contact and communication was closer. "If the community felt that someone needed a little reprimand," she said, "some of the outstanding people would go to them and quietly tell them what they had done that they should not have done, and usually it helped. If it didn't help, the community did whatever they found necessary."
Divorce was a condition which often caused the woman to lose her status in the community as it was frowned on very heavily. "When you married," Coralee said, "you married for life." Many times people didn't get divorces because they would be outcasts of the community. The community looked at divorcees with a kind of 'I don't know about you' attitude. They didn't know how to handle that situation. That especially included divorced women. They considered divorced women husband-stealers. God-fearing religious people just didn't associate with divorced people, so people didn't get a divorce very often. No matter how bad the marriage was, they suffered through it."
Lois agreed, "After you were divorced, a person didn't fit. A divorced person almost had to get with a group of divorced people, because they didn't fit with the married couples or the young ones."
"The faster crowd considered them easy prey," Mable said.
"It wasn't considered a sin," Pearl said, "at least not in the area I grew up in, but the public opinion was one of the bad parts about it. It wasn't the thing to do. Divorced people were looked down upon, and it seemed to me, maybe because I was a girl, always the girl got the worst end of the deal as far as opinion was concerned. The divorced man could go and when he decided to marry a girl, she could be a very nice decent sort of person and there was nothing thought of it. The divorced girl remarrying wasn't the thing to do. Normally she would go home to her parents. I don't remember that their children were looked down on. The community was sympathetic with them due to the fact that they were having to be raised under abnormal conditions."
After living and rearing their children by these stricter moral codes of years ago, many older Ozarkians find it difficult to understand and adapt to the changing morality of today. It is only natural that they should compare this sheltered morality of the early 1900's with the more liberal and independent lifestyle of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some feel that children do not always benefit from this freedom. "I think with the parents working so much of the time now those children are just not close enough to their parents to find out right from wrong," Dorothy said. "I think the mother should be home more where the children are, and I don't believe the children would try as many things as they do now."
"I TRY TO CHANGE WITH THE TIMES BUT SOMETIMES IT'S A LITTLE FAST FOR ME, I JUST THE SAME OLD FASHIONED GAL."
"There are more temptation now," Ashford explained. "Of course, we didn't know anything about drugs when we were growing up. We didn't hear anything about that, and now the modern kids are thrown together with all kinds of things. It doesn't take too much temptation if they haven't been pretty well controlled. As long as I can remember there has been difficulty with some people who have tried to be right all the time. As long as people got started in the world, there has been that condition. All people are good people if they're guided right. They're just in the world and want to do something to be noticed because they do what they do for show, not to be mean. The main part in the whole deal is to try to live right in this world and be good common people and try to help the weak ones to where they can stand on their own two feet. Kids just need control and guidance. It isn't human nature to want to be ornery. Some get tempted to where they can't resist the temptation."
"I think the young people have a lot more freedom than we did when we were growing up," Ella said. "I don't believe they're under as much discipline as we were. Our parents were very strong disciplinarians. Of course, we didn't have the means of transportation like they have now. We didn't go as far away from home, and we were under the control of our parents more. I think that was better. I think young people really have too much freedom now."
Ruby added, "I think the children of today are more outgoing. Perhaps I keep looking back and in my generation we were sneaking. If we could get by with something, we did, but I think kids of today just don't care. They just say, 'to heck with it.' Of course, my mother and father would kill me if they had of caught me or I would have told them some of the things I did."
"Naturally I would think it was better with a stricter moral code," Dorothy said. "I think there is less respect now. We noticed it when Fort Leonard Wood came in here at Waynesville. My husband and I were walking down the street to the theater and we met a bunch of men. They let us get off the sidewalk instead of them stepping off. Ordinarily years ago, they'd give up the sidewalk to a woman anytime. You just wouldn't have thought you'd have to step off the sidewalk.
"It seems like there are lots of other changes. I know one thing that people don't keep their word like they once did. There are so many promises, and I wonder if they ever think of it again. They mean well but something else comes along and distracts them, and they don't think of it anymore."
The Ozarkians were a disciplined people of strict morals and strong constitutions, working hard from the beginning of their lives to their old age. Even if they didn't need to work for financial reasons, in their old age they did because it was an inbred drive.
Sam said, "I think that one of the big problems of life today is that people are bored and the ideal is idleness.
That is a disease today. You see all the publicity that the ideal is to retire and do nothing. That's the most destructive thing that can happen to human personality. Human beings are like a bicycle. If you stop, you fall over."
So the older Ozarkians even today don't stop working or carrying on the traditions of the past in teaching the next generations. They continue to attempt instilling in their grandchildren their moral codes of respecting their elders and fellowman, of prudence and of working hard. Therefore, in many households you may still hear, "What would the neighbors think?"
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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