Arlene Lighthall: still doing chores – the La Porte way


Sewing by old women

WNLP editor’s note: Here’s another chapter from the memoirs of La Porte native Arlene (Ahlgrim) Lighthall. Arlene, who now lives in Del Mar, Calif., grew up in La Porte. WNLP readers’ many responses to her memoirs have added more sweet stories of our hometown. Arlene graduated from La Porte High School in 1949 and earned degrees from Ball State and Indiana universities; she also studied in various European countries. Look forward to more of her memoirs soon on WNLP. 

The old La Porte work ethic has not been erased by time or  space. With a house full of “time-saving” appliances that eat time for cleaning and repair, I seem as busy as was my mother. I cook “from scratch,” including baking my bread.

Arlene (Ahlgrim) Lighthall

Mom prepared casseroles, cakes, breakfast breads, and creamy puddings. A Christmas ritual was slaving to produce ten or twelve varieties of cookies for sharing and trading with friends and relatives. She stored them in the storm shed alongside leftover turkey and jelled salads. For me, cooking is not work; I eschew packaged mixes and TV meals. I read cookbooks from cover to cover like novels. 

Perhaps it was the German in Mom’s background that  influenced not only her compulsion for cleaning but also her menus. Potatoes were a dinner staple along with meat, vegetable and dessert. Salad consisted of Jell-O and canned fruit, or a canned peach filled with cottage cheese. In the summer we ate green salad. 

Newly married, I remembered how to cook square meals like we had back in La Porte. One day my husband asked if we could sometime have rolls or rice. No problem. The next night we had meat, vegetable, potatoes, rice, and rolls. He didn’t complain or use the phrase “substitute for.” Not too many weeks later, I was teaching German and found a simple story in the textbook. A young German boy, in describing his life, related they ate potatoes three times a day. The light went on. The next night we had meat, vegetable and rice. 

Until I went to college I had never tasted real “spaghetti.” Since onions were seldom cooked at home and garlic and  oregano had no space on the spice shelf where only nutmeg and cinnamon kept company, spaghetti for us was pasta plus ground beef plus tomato juice. And I loved it! 

Mom hated to sew, but she made clothes for me till I was out of college. And she was a good seamstress. Relying on early 4-H instruction, I started sewing again, not finding it work at all. Each visit to a foreign country finds me buying native fabrics for clothing I design and sew.  

Not much has changed since childhood when I liked being busy every minute, but not working. To keep my room clean was no biggie, but light dusting was. Why did I  have to dust the legs of the dining room table every Saturday? A dish rack next to the kitchen sink was not for self-drying. It was just for holding dishes for me to dry. Why couldn’t they dry by themselves? I always propped a  poem close by to memorize as I dried. This was before  “multi-tasking” was in the vocabulary.

It never occurred to  me that perhaps Mom just wanted my company. Saying I  had a lot of homework was always a good escape excuse. Years later, while mothering and teaching, I would occasionally hire cleaning people, but they were never as  thorough as I preferred. I’ve almost always done my own housework. Even today I dust table legs. The old saying goes, you can take a boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy. It also applies to a girl and La Porte.

One Response to “Arlene Lighthall: still doing chores – the La Porte way”

  1. La Porte Mom

    Jun 12. 2021

    Very interesting, I see similar traits on how I was raised. I also taught my girls that a clean, well run home was most desirable and important. It is hard to do now days though, if you are a full time working wife and mom. Sometimes I have to let a lot of these chores wait until i have the time and energy to do. Seems like there just aren’t enough hours in a day anymore. Housework can always wait, but kids grow up so fast, I triy to prioritize my time for family lately.

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