Marilyn Kratz Interview: Feed Sack Dresses and Wild Plum Jam–Remembering Farm Life in the 1950s

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Today we are joined by author Marilyn Kratz. She has had about 650 stories, poems, articles, and newspaper columns published in her almost 50 years as a freelance writer. Her children’s stories have appeared in Highlights for Children, High Five, Hello, and magazines in the Cricket and National Wildlife Federation magazines. She writes for each issue of a regional magazine and writes a twice-monthly nostalgia newspaper column. She has had five books published. She is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and has been a presenter at several of their regional conferences, as well as local conferences. She is a retired elementary teacher living in Yankton, SD.
DW: When did you start writing, and what did you write?
MK: I started writing when I took ten years off from my teaching career while my children were little. At first I wrote exclusively for children. Since retiring from teaching, I have expanded into other types of writing and enjoy them all.
How did you balance teaching, writing, and caring for a family?
Balancing all aspects of a busy life is much easier when you’re young. I don’t think I could do all that now. However, one trick I used to keep writing in spite of all my other tasks was to come up with stories while doing household chores. I always tried to have the first line of the story and the names of the characters as well as the plot well thought out before actually sitting down to write. There just wasn’t time to “sit and think.”
How did Feed Sack Dresses and Wild Plum Jam–Remembering Farm Life in the 1950s come about?
My newest book, Feed Sack Dresses and Wild Plum Jam – Remembering Farm Life in the 1950s – came about as the result of reactions to my newspaper column, upon which the book is based. People told me they enjoyed my columns because they brought back their own memories. I decided to put together a collection of them, along with some new article, recipes, poems, and family photographs in the book.
I’ve heard and read so much about farm life during the 30’s and 40’s and before. But, after reading your book, I see the 50’s were a decade of change for farm families. Electricity seemed to be one of the biggies. Why do you think we don’t hear more about that decade? What were some of the other big changes?
People are so wrapped up in their lives these days that they don’t often think of life in their parents’ childhoods. It was so different back then. I think it’s important for people these days to remember what life was like back then so they have a better understanding of that simpler life and appreciate what it contributed to our lives today. One of the most important aspects of life back then was the closeness of families geographically. Nowadays, people are so scattered that they hardly get to know their relatives. Of course, the biggest change is the result of technology. It has made life so different for people from what it was years ago that they only way they can even know about those past days is to read about them or have an older person tell about them.
Did listening to soap operas on the radio teach you to love story? If so, how?
I suppose soap operas contributed to my love of story because it wrapped me up in other people’s lives. It was a lot like reading a book, chapter by chapter.
Now that spring has arrived to South Dakota, we’ve started using our grill. You mentioned that the first time you saw someone grill hamburgers was on a family vacation to California. Did you have other types of cook-outs or picnics as a kid?
We had lots of picnics. Each spring there were huge Sunday School picnics for everyone in the church. Family gatherings at Grandma’s house on the Fourth of July were held on her shady front yard. Some Sunday afternoons, Mama would pack a picnic lunch, and we’d drive to Pickstown to view the building of the dam there. When we took our one and only road trip to California, we ate in the car or roadside parks  all the way out and back because we couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants.
What did you like to read as a kid? What do you like to read now?
I liked the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Tammy series, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books among many others. I loved hearing my teacher in rural school read from the Bobsey Twins books. My favorite book of all time, which I reread regularly, is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. These days, I read lots of young adult books as well as classics and some of the new best sellers. Right now, I’m reading The Book Thief.
Thanks, Marilyn! Do you have any upcoming book signings?
Loretta Sorensen and I will do a joint signing at the Sioux City, IA, Barnes & Noble of our new books on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 1-3 p.m. Loretta’s book is Kernels of Corn History. Mine is Feed Sack Dresses and Wild Plum Jam – Remembering Farm Life in the 1950s.
Marilyn’s book is also available in downtown Sioux Falls at Zandbroz Variety.
I can relate to listening to the radio as I do housework, especially the ironing. But my iron is much different from the one Marilyn would have used as a child. How is your life similar or different now than it was, or would have been, in the 1950s?

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