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Is this really progress?

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Once upon a time, here in the Panhandle, groceries and other supplies were available only at Tascosa, Mobeetie, New Clarendon and Dodge City. This is a long way from our modern Quick Stops and Super Stores.

Imagine making out your grocery list for enough staples to last six months or more at a time. Or, list the items needed on your chuck wagon to feed eight hungry, hard-working men on a cattle drive lasting for several months. Of course the fare was simple, mostly flour, salt, baking powder and dried pinto beans. Meat was butchered as needed whether at home on the frontier or on the trail.

One of the most important facilities for a frontier home was a dirt-walled root cellar where almost anything could be stored in an effort to preserve food a little longer. When meat-packing companies developed home meat cures, everyone built a large wooden meat box to hold cured hams, shoulders, bacon sides and sausage after the fall hog killing. Another fall practice that worked well was hanging sides of fresh beef, wrapped in old bed sheets, in the windmill towers.

The faithful kitchen pantry was the next step up for the "current" modern kitchen. Our pantry was about 6 feet square, shelves from bottom to top, had linoleum on the floor and newspaper shelf linings that were changed once a year. The place always smelled of spices and seasonings used in meat curing and cooking. Between our concrete cellar, meat box and pantry I don't remember ever being hungry or even thinking we might go hungry some day.

When the locker plants came along, with individual baskets and lockers to hold the customer's meat and produce, we felt we had reached the ultimate in food preservation. Shop each week in the grocery store and remember before leaving town, go by the locker plant and select the amounts of frozen food needed for the next week. What could be easier or handier?

Soon after that, if you had electricity and if you could afford one, the home deep freeze was invented. As long as the electricity stayed on, fresh-frozen food was always available. Just remember to lay it out to thaw in plenty of time before meals. Sadly today, when the hey-day of many smaller towns has past, history seems to be repeating itself. Suddenly, in many small towns like McLean the one grocery store operating for more than 85 years, shut down and no one seems to be interested in starting another. If you are out and traveling around, buying groceries is no problem. If you are elderly and maybe confined to your town the loss of the grocery store can be a tragedy.

I find it ironic that here in our world of technology, travel at the speed of sound, huge trucks passing by on the busiest interstate highway in 500 miles, journeys to the moon, satellites whizzing overhead and cell phones in every pocket, we are having to travel 30, 40 or 80 miles to buy groceries just like the old days. Is this really progress? Thank goodness we can still drive and have a vehicle and highway to use instead of a wagon and team going down a dusty trail.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
November 2 , 2010 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.

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