Have you ever wondered what happens when an American Girl character grows up? If she were a real person what would she be like as an adult? Well, if Ruthie was a real person, she would be my grandma.
In the American Girl books Ruthie Smithens is Kit Kitteredge’s best friend. Kit is the character growing up in Cincinnati during The Great Depression. Kit’s family is hit hard when her father loses his job and the family is forced to take on boarders to keep their home. Kit’s Aunt Millie comes for a visit and helps teach the family how she does things on the farm. Her motto is “waste not, want not”! Ruthie’s family doesn’t struggle financially because her father didn’t lose his job. Kit resents her at times but their friendship stays strong through it all.
My grandma grew up during the depression and her childhood stories are amazing! My whole life I have watched her apply the “waste not, want not” ideology. She knows how to do EVERYTHING! She’s always had a garden and canned. She loves flowers and has the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen (seriously she can bring any scrawny plant into beautiful blooms) and her love of plant knowledge was passed onto me. One time when I was making applesauce and apple butter, she told me I should also be making apple core jelly so not to waste the cores. People, she doesn’t even waste apple cores ! 😂
The American Girl books have Kit’s birthday as May 19, 1923 and Ruthie’s as Aug 22, 1923. My grandma was born in June 1923 and is about to turn 96. She is a very special lady and one of my favorite people. She is truly precious. Happy Birthday Grandma!
Like Ruthie, my grandmother’s family didn’t struggle during the Depression. They were self-sufficient on their farm and worked hard. Believe it or not, my grandma’s parents bought a brand new car during the Depression!
Grandma grew up on a 112 acre farm with corn being the main crop. They had every kind of farm animal and a huge garden. The farm had lots of fruit trees, white concord grape vines, blackberry and gooseberry bushes and damsons (like large grapes). They grew almost everything they ate and also sold it in town. Her dad would tap sugar maple trees on their property and make syrup. Using the syrup, her mom would make maple candies in muffin tins and sell them for 50 cents. They went to town once a week and her dad would treat them to an ice cream cone at Weber’s in the summertime.
The pictures of my grandma as a young lady remind me of Ruthie, but when I showed her the doll she said “That looks nothing like me”. 😂 Below is a photo of my grandma at 15 years old with Ruthie posed to re-enact it.
Grandma talks very fondly of her school days. She took her lunch in a tin syrup bucket and had ham on homemade bread (yum) or a fried egg. At recess they played baseball, marbles, jacks and had foot races. She and other girls would sometimes play house and use acorns as their pretend dishes. On the last day of school each year, they would have a big picnic and all of the parents would come.
Throughout grandma’s school years, the school would host boxed suppers to raise money. Girls would fix up a box supper for two and it would be auctioned off. Boys would bid on the box they wanted but didn’t know what girl made it. The winner and the girl that made the boxed meal would eat it together. Of course the girls tried to make their box the most appealing by decorating it with craft paper and adding special things like chocolate covered cherries. Grandma said that some girls made fancy cookies and sandwiches. When I asked what kind of fancy sandwich, she said “bologna”. 😂 I asked how is bologna fancy? She said “because it was store bought!”
In her free time, grandma loved to draw and play with her dolls. She remembered a book of paper dolls she thought was special. One Christmas, a large package came in the mail for her from her grandpa. When she got it out of the mailbox she heard it cry through the box. She was so excited to get a crying baby doll! Grandma’s mom always made popcorn balls at Christmas time and she added “no one could make them like her!”
During the Depression, stores sold flour, sugar and other dry goods in pretty printed material sacks. People would buy the product but also get material to make things they needed. Grandma remembers making dish towels out of sugar sacks. She would embroider them to make them prettier. Any worn out clothes or aprons were saved and made into a quilt.
My grandpa (who has passed away) grew up in town and his family had a very hard time through the Depression. They only had a small garden and a few chickens. They’re meals consisted of beans, potatoes and cabbage. Grandma remembered him saying they would hunt rabbits and squirrels or buy sow’s belly (a cheap, real fatty piece of pork). They ate a lot of biscuits and gravy. Grandma threw in “lard makes the best biscuits and pie crust.” 😊
I know she’s not your grandma, but we all have family that went through the Depression and hopefully we can learn through them how to live our lives better. They worked hard and appreciated the little things. I hope you enjoyed my grandma’s memories as much as I did. American Girl characters might be fictitious, but their stories are very real.