Bread and Butter Days
by Trisha Faye


My favorite source for stories from the “good ‘ole days”, Iona Mae Burk, shared a childhood memory. She is the eldest of six children. Hence, most of her childhood years revolved around taking care of her younger brothers and sisters.

She remembered a time when she wasn’t quite 6 years-old. Supper was over and everyone was sitting around the table in the kitchen. Iona, called Mae by her family, had to go give her younger sister a bottle. Ida Pearl lay in the crib in the front room, which was dark.

Mae was scared. She didn’t want to go into the dark front room. She pleaded for a kerosene lamp to take with her. “Ida needs it to be able to see,” she pleaded. To no avail. Her mother, Bea Jones, didn’t fall for it. Mae had to go in the dark room and hold the bottle through the slats without the light of a kerosene lamp.

My first thought when I heard the story was ‘Why didn’t you flip on the light switch?’ Electricity existed, even back in these days of 1942. But not for much of rural America, or for the Jones’ living in a Missouri farm house. How spoiled we are in today’s world. Except for the occasional electrical outage, few know what it’s like to live without electricity.

Here’s some fun tidbits about kerosene, taken from an old newspaper clipping.

Uses For Kerosene:

BBD_kerosene lampA white flannel cloth or piece of white knit underwear dampened with kerosene will clean any porcelain or metal bathtub. Dry the tub first and then rub lightly with the kerosene cloth. Every vestige of foreign matter will disappear and an instant’s brisk rub with a dry flannel will complete the task. A porcelain tub can be kept as new by this statement.

Kerosene will cut the accumulated grease from the drain pipe of a sink and will keep the sink itself perfectly sweet and clean. Kerosene cuts all grease and fats generally; axle grease disappears before it and tar softens and fades away. It is so volatile that, if put in dry heat it will quickly evaporate and leave no stain on the fabric upon which it has been used.

As a bleacher kerosene stands high. Put half a teacupful into a washtub of water and then proceed with the washing after the usual method. The clothes will be whiter, sweeter and hygienically much cleaner than they can be got without the use of oil, for kerosene is a disinfectant. It kills all inevitable life, so that many kinds of germs are utterly destroyed by its use.

Last and most important, kerosene figures as a household remedy. To quote the woman from those experience of kerosene the above facts have been drawn:

“I have saved my eldest boy twice by the use of kerosene. The first time it was out on a ranch in Kansas. He had a fearful attack of membraneous croup. His father was racing over the prairie for a doctor, who could not be got in time. I watched for the boy’s death at every convulsive struggle for breathe, when into my mind rushed a saying of my old nurse.”

‘We always killed the croup with kerosene’. I had a horror of her advice in my childhood, but then I blessed her as I seized my lamp, blew out the flame and succeeded in forcing some of the oil into the child’s mouth. In ten minutes the hardness of the phlegm was gone and the child saved.

“Once again I used it with none but good effect; and, while in all cases where I could have medical aid I should prefer to rely upon my doctor, still I feel that, armed with kerosene, I am equipped to aid an afflicted child.”

Now I’m the last one that would discount folk remedies. I often use many of the old-time passed-down-through-generations medical advice over prescriptions and office visits that are often out of my budget. But I think I’ll pass on this one. I’ll keep kerosene on my ‘nostalgic’ list. And, should I ever come down with membraneous croup, I’ll be heading to the closest doctor – as I flip off my electric light on my way out the door.

— Do you have any stories about ‘the good ole days’ that you’d like to share? Contact Trisha Faye at


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