Once a year my mother’s family made a trip to Dozier, an all day affair, to get a new pair of shoes (along with other supplies). The shoes were bought at least one size too large since they had to last the entire year. Cotton would be stuffed in the toe of the shoes to begin with. Of course, the shoes couldn’t and didn’t last intact for an entire year. The soles would come loose and flap as they walked to school. My mother’s father would glue old tire rubber on the soles. It wouldn’t be long before the tire rubber had worked loose.
When possible, the children didn’t wear shoes. That was usually from early spring to fall. My aunt enjoyed the mud squishing through her toes after a spring rain. Ground itch often followed. (Ground itch is when the larvae of hookworms penetrate the skin.)
In the summer, the hot sun heated the ground to such an extent that they had to have some protection for their feet. Their mother made them cloth shoes out of “guano sacks.” Guano are bird or bat droppings and farmers bought the fertilizer in burlap sacks. When the sacks were emptied of their droppings, they were washed and used for a variety of things. Besides cloth shoes, the sacks were also used to make bath towels, slacks and bedspreads. Can you imagine sleeping under a bedspread that once held bat droppings?
I couldn’t find a picture of an old guano sack such as my mother’s family used, but this one is similar.
Flour came in sacks of a softer material (cotton) and were also used in a variety of ways. Handkerchiefs, dishrags, baby clothes, underwear and even dresses were made from the sacks. The girls in my mother’s family did not have store-bought underwear until they were in high school.
The companies caught on that farmers’ wives were using their sacks for clothing and other purposes. They began selling flour, sugar and even feed in printed material.
Recycling was the rage—out of necessity!