Library kits elicit memories

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
John Jessmore, Margaret Smoot and Russell Zornes share a laugh over recollections of life during war time during a guided Bi-Folkal exercise at Guest Home Estates recently.

One of the ironies about living a long, eventful life is that often its memories are never shared. Unless a person is questioned, such knowledge may not be passed on.
Beckye Parker, special needs consultant at the Iola Public Library, can help.
The library offers Bi-Folkal kits that help guide people’s memories and provide starting points for discussion. The kits all have specific themes, Parker said, and include a variety of props.
“All your sensories are in here,” Parker said. The kits include tactile items such as perfume bottles or ration cards from World War II, scented cards, song books and cassettes.
Fill-in-the-blank cards with statements such as “Our kitchen table was made of ____” and “My first morning chore was ____” prompt recollections.
“First Writes” are cards with statements about daily life regarding religion, birthdays, kitchen memories, movie stars, relatives and more. They can be used as a parlor game, with people around a circle taking turns filling in the blank. “My favorite relative ____ had ____ colored hair,” is one example.
Bi-Folkal kits can be used by anyone. Each comes with an activity guide.
Photo kits, Parker said, are particularly good at sparking memories, as viewers recall clothing styles, the price of shoes and world events of the pictured era.
The kits have been very successful at area nursing homes, especially engaging men. Retired farmers readily respond to items such as seed packs, a placard of different grains and a classic red bandana in the “Remembering Farm Days,” kit, Parker said.
The band-in-a-box, which includes a 25-piece percussion band with bells, tone blocks, rhythm sticks and cymbals, is particularly popular for mixed-age groups, she said.
Puzzles, toys, balls that light up when bounced — all are available for check out. Some groups check out puppets and put on shows. Foam Frisbees, plastic vegetables and oversized dominoes for the visually impaired are also available.
“The funniest thing we have is a rubber chicken,” Parker said.
One college student planned on checking out items for her birthday party, Parker said.
The kits are wonderful tools during family gatherings or reunions, to get the quiet members of the family talking or to keep conversation going when minds might otherwise might turn to TV, Parker said.
“This is definitely inter-generational, from age 2 on up,” she said of the kits. “It’s all conversation-starters. Whatever can stimulate memories, talking, laughter.”

GUEST HOME Estates and its activity director, Phyllis Coltharp, regularly use the Bi-Folkal kits.
On a recent afternoon, the activity room was packed with residents remembering the impact of World War II on life in Iola.
“I remember picking milkweed for the latex,” offered Bill Scheibmeir. “I remember a comic strip of Captain Easy — he fought the Germans,” Scheibmeir added.
Cecil Koloff also fought the Germans. He sported the army dress cap in the kit, and told which ranks matched which stripes on uniforms.
The group discussed replacements for white sugar, which was rationed during the war. Instead of sugar, people used honey for baking, many of the women in the group recalled.
“They gave you booklets (of ration coupons) for sugar, shoes and gasoline,” said Dorothy Hurst.
“You could purchase the items at the store, but only what you had coupons for,” added Russell Zornes.
But, let on Andrew Still, “B rations gave you twice as much as A rations.” Still was a physician, and as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service during the war, he received the extended rations. His profession was considered crucial to the war effort.
“The more important you were to the government, the more gasoline you got,” he said.
Talk of hardships imposed by the war led to other recollections.
“If you went swimming in dirty water, your legs would stop moving so well,” said Rosa Neal. Polio was common in the war era, and it was spread through unclean water.
Home remedies abounded.
“My dad would come with a cup of chopped onion mixed with sugar in the middle of the night and say ‘eat this’ because you had the croupy cough,” Zornes recalled.
“My uncle would give you a hot pepper and it produced an artificial fever and you’d just sweat it out,” recalled John Jessamore of his family’s cold cure.
His mention of cod liver oil elicited a collective groan from the group. “And castor oil would clean you out,” he added.
Lye soap was used to dry the weeping rash of poison ivy, Coltharp noted.
It was also used to wash clothes.
“On wash day, you’d catch all the rain water you could,” said Pearl Green. “You’d put the suds in that, then you’d hang out the clothes to dry,” she said.
Neal noted her mother made their family soap of lye and bacon grease.
“If you got the lye on your hands and got it wet it would eat a hole in your hand,” she said of the caustic substance.
Russell noted his mother washed clothes in a washboard in the river.
Families — often the children — had to haul water from creeks and rivers to houses for daily use, said Green, and children bathed in washtubs in the yard. Water was heated on stoves stoked with coal, “Or whatever you could find to burn,” she said.
“I was born in the ’40s, so I grew up that way,” she added.

OTHER TIDBITS of daily life were remembered by looking at artifacts in the Bi-Folkal kit.
An ad for leg makeup prompted Dorothy Hurst to inform “you didn’t have any hose during the war. The material was used for parachutes.” Instead, women used leg makeup, she said, which made their skin appear tan.
“If you got a sunburn you were all right,” joked Green.
While the group moaned at how much taxes have risen — they were $13.44 a year in Allen County in 1944, according to the kit — overall, they are pleased that things have changed.
Hilda Kimzey summed it up well.
“It was hard living,” she said.