I found this letter in an old scrapbook. My family was living in Rangoon, Burma. The letter is from my mother to a friend in Iowa.
February 15, 1953
I’m sorry not to have written you sooner – I have thought of you so many times. I would like to tell you so much about Burma and our life her, but it is hard to condense all these new experiences and decide which might be the most interesting.
First, I think you might like to know what your home is like. We are fortunate in having a good-sized brick house, which is rented from a Burmese woman. It has 20 ft. ceilings, ceiling fans, concrete floors, and every piece of wood in the whole house from rafters to coffee table is of beautiful teakwood. Due to the high ceiling, fans and brick walls we hope to be as comfortable as is possible here during the humid hot season, which is just now beginning. To help run our household we have a cook who is indispensible, for he does the marketing, acts as interpreter since he speaks excellent English as well as four or five other languages, and he miraculously runs the temperamental kerosene stove! There are very few Burmese who work as house servants and our cook is Indian. He is a Hindu and does not eat beef, but does not object to cooking it for us. Then we have a sweeper who does the cleaning with includes scrubbing the concrete floor and waxing all the furniture at least once a week o prevent mildew. Then since babysitters are unheard of here as such, we have a nanny who lives with us and, besides babysitting, takes care of light laundry, helps me with mending and sewing and is a most pleasant person to have around. She is a young, pretty woman and a good Baptist. I usually take her with me when I drive so that she can interpret for me if the car should break down or if we should become lost (I’ still learning my way around the city).
Now, as Mother keeps asking, you might be wondering what I do with my new “life of leisure”. Well, everything is not perfect and leisurely even with so much help, believe me. Since many people in this part of the world do not have the same ideas of sanitation as we do, I have to constantly check on the kitchen to be sure the water is boiled before placed in the refrigerator for drinking, to remind the dishwasher to use soap, to see that clean dishtowels regularly replace dirty ones, etc. Our help is very fine, and they do everything to make us comfortable, but they often don’t realize how particular we must be to avoid becoming sick. One day I found nanny straining freshly boiled drinking water through a very dirty napkin into a pitcher! Language differences sometimes cause confusion – such as the time Bill asked our cook to get a mess of lime to mark out our new badminton court, and the cook appeared later with 3.5 lbs. of fresh green limes! Needless to say we are still drinking limeade. But, all in all, our household is very pleasant and as much like it would be in America as we can make it under the circumstances. I manage to keep busy – I am trying to learn to speak Burmese, I keep all the household accounts, of course, and do most of the meal planning, attend meetings of several organizations, read as much as possible, go out socially, some, and write letters. It doesn’t sound like much, I guess, but time is passing very quickly.
Our two boys both go to school from 8:30 to noon every day except Thursday and Sunday. Their school is English-speaking, but children rom all nationalities are represented. Some are learning English as they go to school. Our boys have very good friends who are Chinese, French, Dutch, and Burmese – some of whom speak no English at all. But neither race nor language is any barrier to their friendships – an example from which we all might profit.
Rangoon is a most colorful and interesting city with large Chinese and Indian populations as well as the pleasant, friendly Burmese. The city is dominated by one very tall gold-roofed pagoda which is a most interesting place to visit besides being a landmark for Rangoon and one of the outstanding pagodas in this part of the world. One climbs hundreds of steps to the top where there are many statues of Buddha of different sizes, colors and positions. The roof or dome of the pagoda is pure gold leaf and it has many valuable gems sealed inside. We enjoyed the long climb to the top almost as much as the worship center, for the stairs are lined with little shops where everything one can imagine is sold – Burmese, drums, ankle bracelets, cymbals, flowers, lacquer ware, Ivory combs, flutes made of bamboo, brassware, toys, etc, etc. Once Bill and I wanted to buy a delightful-sounding Burmese gong, and since one bargains over the price of most everything here we started bargaining. The merchant asked 15 rupees, we offered 6 and finally after much haggling got it for 8 rupees – very pleased with our bargain. When we got home one of our servants pointed out the price mark written in Burmese – 5 rupees!! But we had had fun anyway, and you can be sure we learned how to read Burmese numbers that very day.
We are at the moment thoroughly enjoying our Iowa news since the monthly ship from New York came in this week. We got about a month supply of newspapers. We get all our letters in about 10 days, but the magazines and papers take about 6 weeks.
We really like it here in Rangoon and are so glad we had the opportunity to come. It is a joy to find that these people halfway around the world are just as human as Americans are, and that it is as easy to become good friends with Asians as it is with Iowans. This is one thing that gives me a renewed faith in the world.
I am re-posting this from my other blog – Eclectic Global Nomad.
My parents were married at 2:00 in the afternoon. My father was on medical leave from the US Navy after having his appendix out. The year was 1943.
My mother remembers driving with her father to the church. They lived in a small town in Iowa. As they drove through downtown my mother noticed the bank clock said 1:55. When she and her new husband drove back the same route to her house for a small reception, she again noticed the clock. It now said 2:15. The minister had married them under the wrong name. Nobody mentioned it.
My father’s father ran the family farm so he had petrol coupons. He filled the car with gas and gave them coupons so they could go to Kansas City for a two day honeymoon before my father returned to his post at Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was training to fly blimps. My mother was teaching school and had to finish out the year before joining him.
They were separated again when my father went to fly blimps off the coast of Brazil searching for German submarines. He remembers Christmas Day, 1944. He and his buddies drove through the Brazilian countryside on their way to find a beach to play volleyball. It was the first time he had ever seen that kind of poverty. He noticed the crops in the fields and decided that very day he could help people by teaching agriculture.
He had planned to be a vocational agriculture instructor when he returned to civilian life but this gave it a whole new dimension. He wanted to work overseas. His mother had always told him he could do what ever he wanted if he set his mind to it.
Like many more of our leading citizens, Mr. LIGGETT has taught in the district schools. He is a native of the Buckeye State – but of choice a Hawkeye – having made his advent in Union county, Ohio, March 2, 1841. At the breaking out of the [Civil] war, Mr. LIGGETT was in Monmouth, Illinois, where he enlisted in Co. C 36th Illinois Inf., his first battle beint that of the Battle of Pea Ridge. He escaped pretty luckily until the battle of Chickamauga, when he was shot in the cheek, the ball coming out at the back of the neck. He still carries evidence of that “Johnnie’s” markmanship.
In [February 18] 1869, Mr. LIGGETT was married to Miss Catharine ARTHUR [in Warren County, Illinois], and they have four (sic) children, two daughters [sic, daughters Bessie, Mary, and Margaret; Pearl died in childwood] two sons [Arthur and Harry of Mount Ayr]. They moved to Mt. Ayr in the spring of 1875, when he formed a partnership with J. R. HENDERSON in the grocery business and has continued in the same occupation nearly ever since excepting the three terms he successfully served this county as clerk of the courts. He is now with his brother, J. Hall LIGGETT, conducting a very successful grocery business, as elswhere noted.
I found this entry on the Ringgold County website. Thomas’ son Harry was my grandfather, and Harry’s brother Arthur was my great uncle. My mother was born in Mt Ayr, Iowa in 1920. She reminisces about growing up in a small town:
Our town, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa, was built around a square with a three story brick courthouse in the very center, a cannon set on one corner of the courtyard, a soldier’s monument (WW I) on another corner and when I was growing up, a bandstand on the north side center. Each Saturday night during the summer the American Legion Band gave an hour’s concert of mostly Sousa marches and other, not too difficult, compositions. Forrest Stewart always was the leader. I played flute and piccolo (Stars and Stripes Forever was a real favorite and challenge!) and the rest of the band was made up of people of all ages from the town and country. It was a lot of fun to be with this varied group and we actually got paid a pittance by the town for this bit of culture. We always had a great time and were so pleased when we occasionally rendered something flawlessly, or at least, acceptably. I think my sister, Jean, played clarinet with us as she grew older.
All around the square were all sorts of stores and offices – a movie house, the Carnegie Library, the Christian Church on one corner, and, in the early days even a milliner’s shop full of beautiful hats. We had two or three doctors, several lawyers, one, of course, was County Attorney, a realty company, a bank, a sandwich shop that made anything from hamburgers to pork tenderloins to brain sandwiches, all delicious. We also had a hotel of sorts, a fire station with truck, a telephone office with operators who place every call for you, and who, therefore always knew all the latest gossip. Also, there was a gas station, a pool hall which was a “den of iniquity” and off limits to most of the younger set. I was even scared to walk by it! There was a post office built during the great depression and decorated by Works Progress Administration mural artists.
Because Harry and Arthur were friendly people and did a big grocery business all over the county, we were taught to be especially friendly and polite to everyone, whether we knew them or not. I think that may explain some of the quirks in Jean’s and my personalities – both “conformist” and “non-conformist” attitudes and cynical. Liquor was frowned upon by most people in Mount Ayr but our Dad who loved a glass of beer now and then (he always put a shake of salt in it) drank it only during his two weeks’ annual vacation away from home.
During the great depression in the 30s, Harry and Arthur, who allowed groceries to be charged by the month, literally fed many families over the county free. For several years after good times returned Dad would get a check in the mail for payment for groceries received during that terrible time. People were basically honest, they just had no money at all during those years. The only bank in our town closed and because of high mortgages many, many farmers lost their homes and land. That was disaster enough, but we had a great drought period during that time also. I don’t remember our family suffering, at least we always had enough to eat. We wore second hand and made over clothing and purchased as little as possible but everyone else was doing the same. We saw so many families who were in such dire straits. Everyday, Dad would come home feeling so sorry about yet another farm foreclosure that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We had a comfortable home, a Model A Ford and no debts that could be foreclosed on. And, apparently the grocery business made ends meet in spite of so many unpaid charge accounts.
Flying home from my winter wonderland visit with the family I thought about a conversation my mother had with one of my nieces as they were saying good-bye.
Mother: We really do have an odd family
Niece: Should we take offense at that?
Mother: Well, no, you are all very interesting.
Niece: Interesting? Now I know we are being insulted.
Mother: But interesting is good. I can’t think of anything worse than a bunch of boring people.
Niece: Well, we certainly are not boring.
Mother: No, none of you are boring!
It was all in good fun but it made me think of what makes up my non-boring family. There were sixteen of us. We are scattered across 5 states.
The patriarch grew up on a farm in Iowa and ended up spending over forty years as an expat. He met many Heads of State and he had been to 90 countries by the time he was 90. The matriarch, kept up with him all the way also starting out in a small town in Iowa. My brothers and I are third culture kids who grew up all over the world.
I married Nicholas, a Russian American whose parents were refugees after World War II. Nicholas’ father never learned to speak English so Nicholas was his translator from a young age. Nicholas used to tell me that coming home from school every day he felt like he was crossing a border into another country. Most of his family still live in Russia. Our son spent the first six years of his life in Russia and has traveled to many places around Europe.
My brother moved to Australia after college and met and married a woman from New Zealand. She also came from a cross cultural family with roots in England and Australia. Their children carry dual passports – New Zealand and USA. They visit their relatives half way around the world whenever they can.
My niece married a first generation American with Indian roots. She is now immersed in the traditions and culture of an extended Indian family. One tradition included a rice eating ceremony for their baby daughter. For this ceremony they needed a baby sari. Not just any sari but a beautiful, fancy sari. They found it was difficult to find one the USA and so another sister-in-law of mine and my niece are starting a baby sari business. They have an Indian woman lined up to make the saris and they are working on a website to market their goods. You will be hearing more about this as things progress.
So we are a cross cultural conglomeration. And we all get along beautifully.
I inherited a cookbook from my grandmother. The cover is gone so I don’t know what it looked like but the date is 1922. The Preface states:
“Organized into a working body, the Mother’s Congress of Mount Ayr, presents Mothers who are studying and working for the betterment of Child Welfare.
In its interests financially, this little book is published and sent out by them.”
“We may live without poetry, music and art.
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends, we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks. —- Merideth.”
It starts out with 12 points on how to set a table. Numbers 11 and 12:
11. Place carving set in front of host, or put carving knife and gravy ladle at his right, and fork at his left.
12. Place coffee cups and coffee pot at right of hostess.
The recipes don’t mention oven temperature other than “moderate oven” or “quick oven” and many of them don’t mention how long anything should cook. Here are a few samples.
Norwegian Stew. – Brown in a large kettle 1 c. lard and butter mixed, 25-cent round steak cut in small pieces, flour thoroughly and stir into the browned lard, continue stirring until meat is brown. Then add 1 c. flour stirring constantly, set on back of stove and add 2 qts. Boiling water, salt and pepper and let simmer 2 hrs, ½ hr. before serving add enough potatoes of medium size for the meal, stir occasionally as it will stick to kettle. — J.A.W.
Molasses Cake. 1 cup molasses, ½ c. sugar, ½ c. butter or lard, ½ tsp each cloves, ginger, cinnamon; 1 tsp. soda in 1 c. boiling water, 2 eggs, well beaten; last, flour to stiffen. –Mrs. Holman.
And my grandmother’s contribution:
Green Tomato Relish. – 5 lbs. green tomatoes, 6 large onions, 3 c. brown sugar, 3 c. red peppers, 3 green peppers, 1 tbsp. each of powdered cloves, all spice, celery seed, dry mustard, ½ c. salt, 8 c. vinegar. Peel and slice tomatoes and onions very thin. Remove seeds from peppers and chop very fine. To these add the other ingredients and cook over a moderate fire ½ hr., stirring frequently. Cover with paraffin. – Mrs. Liggett.
Rub the feet every night and morning with bay rum and witch hazel, equal parts, for frost bits.
Turpentine and lard rubbed on throat and chest will often relieve pain from cold.
To carry a mattress without breaking your fingernails (also back) use a broom underneath as a saddle and see how much easier it is.
Use a tbsp. of kerosene to wash windows. It not only cuts the dirt but is distrastful to flies
I’m not sure what “distrastful” is. Maybe a typo. But you get the idea.
The book ends with a poem.
Receipt for a Happy Day
Take a little dash of cold water,
A little leaven of prayer,
A little bit of sunshine gold,
Dissolved in the morning air.
Add to your meal some merriment,
Add thought for kith and kin,
And the, as a prime ingredient
A plenty of work thrown in.
Flavor it all with essence of love,
And a dash of play.
Let the dear old book and a glance above,
Complete the well spent day.
Whatever your recipe is, I hope you have a happy day!!