Interview with Jane "Jenny" Toomey, 1984 February 8 [audio](part 2)

Share/Save:
  • Her father cutting hair and mending shoes for the neighborhood; taking castor oil for illness; mousetraps and ironing
    Keywords: Castor oil--Therapeutic use; Haircutting; Irons (Pressing); Mousetraps; Pet care; shoe lasts; Shoemakers; Traditional medicine
    Transcript: Toomey: ...hair. Anybody wanted their hair cut, on a Saturday afternoon he'd cut anybody's hair that needed cutting. And he mended their shoes. They'd bring him the shoes and the leather and he would fix them. Put half soles on them or heels on them, whatever they wanted. Nobody went to the shoemaker. My father did them all.

    Johnson: Did he do that right in his house?

    Toomey: Yes. He had all the lasts. I still have the lasts he used to use. It had a little one one it, you know. It turned over and had a bigger one. Had three foot sizes on it, you know. He mended all the shoes of all the kids around the neighborhood.

    Johnson: Did he have a regular needle and thread?

    Toomey: Yes. And he'd sew them. He'd sew the tops of them if they needed it. Tap the soles on and fit the heels. He did it all. I had forgotten all about that until you mentioned it now made me think about it. Yeah, he did it all. Cut everybody's hair too.

    Johnson: Did they ever give him money?

    Toomey: Oh no. No. That's just neighborly. That was a neighborly thing you did. Nobody paid anybody for anything. No matter what you did. Anybody had a sickness or anything, everybody helped out. Anybody died, the neighbors went in helped to clean the house up, baked foods. Bring it in. Nobody ever paid anybody for anything.

    Johnson: Do you remember ever helping anybody?

    Toomey: Oh yes, I helped plenty of times.

    Johnson: Do you remember what anybody was sick of? Were a lot of people sick?

    Toomey: No. Just ordinary things. I guess half the time the people didn't know what they had. They didn't know all about...well, cancer. I guess a lot of people died of cancer, and they didn't know what it was at the time. And my mother died with diabetes. In those days they called it Bright's Disease. They didn't know anything to do for it. Just ordinary medicine, I guess. She was only 40 years old and she died with it. So they had no fancy name for it. Had no cures. I guess they had the same prescriptions for everything. I don't know what they did.

    Johnson: You wouldn't know what the medicine was or anything like that.

    Toomey: No. And if you had a cold or anything, you doctored yourself up. You didn't go to any doctor. Nobody run to a doctor for a cold or anything.

    Johnson: Do you remember what your father would give you if you had a cold?

    Toomey: I don't know, but if you got sick you took castor oil. [laughs] I can still remember that. And there was a drugstore up the road. They would send the druggist and get this stuff. You didn't take just plain castor oil. He'd mix it all up in a glass and it had fuzzy stuff on top. We had to drink that. My father would stand over us until we would drink it. If you were sick, that's what you got. No matter what you had. If you broke your leg you took castor oil.

    Johnson: I bet you didn't tell him when you got sick. [laughter]

    Toomey: As soon as I touched that fuzzy stuff I would get sick. But we had to drink it. He would stand right over you and make you drink every drop of it. I guess it cured us. We all grew up anyhow.

    Johnson: It says here "What was the most important thing your parents taught you?"

    Toomey: Oh, I don't know. To be honest, and be good people, I guess. I don't know.

    Johnson: They taught more by example than by telling.

    Toomey: Yeah. You were supposed to do what was right. If you did wrong you were punished for it.

    Johnson: I think that pretty well covers the questions. Do you remember if you had a mousetrap in the house?

    Toomey: Oh always. Yes.

    Johnson: Would you need that very much if you had a cat? Or would you be likely to catch a mouse, too?

    Toomey: Well, we had them around. But cats took care of them mostly. That's why my father thought you couldn't live without a cat in the house, you know. Keep the mice away.

    Johnson: Did you have any trouble with the cat getting fleas or anything like that?

    Toomey: No. No. I guess if they had them we didn't know it. [laughs]

    Johnson: Cause now they make such a thing with flea collars.

    Toomey: Oh yes. We had nothing. I guess they just didn't get them, I don't know.

    Johnson: Did you have to bathe your dog in the summer time?

    Toomey: I don't remember ever bathing him.

    Johnson: Maybe things weren't as bad then as they are now.

    Toomey: I guess they took care of themselves. I don't know.

    Johnson: Do you remember having a fluting iron?

    Toomey: A what?

    Johnson: A fluting iron to iron your clothes with. I think that was something that...they have one of those in the Gibbons House.

    Toomey: I don't know what you mean.

    Johnson: You fasten it on the table and it's almost like a wringer.

    Toomey: Oh, a food chopper.

    Johnson: Well, this is for ironing your clothes to make pleats in your clothes. You put them between these two rollers.

    Toomey: Oh a wringer. Oh yes.

    Johnson: But this if for ironing. You put a hot...

    Toomey: Oh no. We never had one of those.

    Johnson: Did you do any ironing do you remember?

    Toomey: Oh yeah, you had to do all your ironing. Everything had to be ironed. Starched and ironed. Now they don't...I never use starch myself.

    Johnson: Did you have to iron your father's shirts? Would he wear a white shirt on Sunday...

    Toomey: No. He'd wear blue...you know, chambray or something. They had to be pressed a little bit, too. Then he wore a white shirt on Sunday. When he went to church, he wore a white shirt. That was all. Just had the one good white shirt for church on Sunday.

    [Original transcriber's note: "Tape goes off. Mrs. Johnson had summarized what Mrs. Toomey talked about, since she didn't mean to turn off the tape."]
  • Final remarks including discussion of cookie and spice cake recipes
    Keywords: brown-edge wafers; Cookies; Hairdressing; Recipes; spice cake; The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
    Transcript: Toomey: Well if you remember anything else you want to ask me later on, you can always call me.

    Johnson: I think we pretty well covered all the material. Thank you very much.

    Toomey: I'm home most of the time. On Thursdays I go to the hairdresser, but I usually don't go out. Only on Thursday. [More discussion of hairdressers]

    Johnson: And do you know Ella Fitzharris?

    Toomey: Yes. She lives next door.

    Johnson: She was interviewed several years ago.

    Toomey: So was I. Somebody came here one time and they asked us about Christmas customs. Things like that. Ella was in here at the same time. I sent a recipe in for the cookbook, but they didn't use it. My name was in the acknowledgments, you know, that I had sent something in.

    Johnson: What was your recipe?

    Toomey: Spice cake. I used to make it when the children were little. I wrote all this out on the recipe. When the children were little I used to put raisins in it and put it in their lunches. But now I make it every year at Christmas time, and make it in pound loaves and give it away to a lot of people. I made thirty-five this Christmas. I put cut-up Christmas fruit in it, you know, and then I put cherries on top of it. I give it to people for Christmas presents. All my family, I give it to, and a lot of other people that are not family. But I made thirty five this past Christmas. And I make cookies every couple weeks. I always have cookies. Everybody knows where the cookie can is so everybody comes in goes for the cookie can. So I have to make them every other week, so I made some yesterday. I keep busy.

    Johnson: Where did you get that recipe? Is that an old family recipe?

    Toomey: The cookies, I think that's a recipe I found in Fannie Farmers one time. I was babysitting for somebody. I got up in the morning and there was nobody up. I was looking through the cookbook for something to do and I saw this cookie recipe for brown-edge wafers. And I've been making them ever since. That must be 25 years ago. I have to make them about every other week, because everybody comes in goes for the cookie can. [More talk about cookies]

    Johnson: Dr. Seitz has been making the Gibbons cookies that her grandmother made, and she brings them to the Gibbons house when she's on duty. If she makes 80 cookies, she can tell how many visitors we had, because she'd say, well if each one ate one, then we've had eighty...Now what about the spice cake. Is that an old recipe?

    Toomey: No. The spice cake is just...one time it was called a poor man's cake. Then I just started making it and I started doing this.

    Johnson: I'm surprised they didn't put it in the book. I guess they got more than they needed.

    Toomey: They might have had other recipes for spice cake too, or some similar and they didn't use it.

    Johnson: I guess one trouble was they didn't get many vegetable recipes, and they thought they had to have more vegetables. Too many cakes. [laughter]

    Toomey: I guess I have this thing worn out. [removes collar microphone]

    Johnson: It was so nice of you to talk to us. I've learned a lot.

    Toomey: I hope I've helped a little bit.

    [Mrs. Toomey mentions that her son works for the Delaware State Department downtown in the anti-discrimination department.]

    Johnson: I think that's where Dr. Seitz works. Do you know her at all?

    Toomey: Do I what?

    Johnson: Do you know Dr. Margaret Seitz?

    Toomey: No.

    Johnson: She is the great-granddaughter of John Gibbons, the powder yard foreman, who lived in that big house that they've opened up just recently. The powder foreman's house. And she works for the State Department of Labor.

    Toomey: Oh. Well it's right next door. They're all on one floor.

    Johnson: But he might very well know her. She is really nice. She can remember visiting her grandmother who lived up in Free Park.

    Toomey: Oh yeah. Some of those articles I read about, they had Flea Park in there. It was Free Park.

    Johnson: That's what they told us. It's really Free Park. Thank you very much for letting me see your picture. [Final remarks]