While I’m certainly interested in seeing how far back I can discover relatives on my family tree, I’m also interested in knowing what my family’s life was like when they arrived to America. What did they eat, where did they go out, what was their school like? To that end, I often find myself on random sites, trying to discover photos or stories or old records. I’ve focused a lot lately on Memphis, since that’s where my maternal grandfather grew up.

I’ve been on the site of the Shelby County Register of Deeds many times looking up deeds, wedding records, death records. But I noticed recently a bunch of links that I had completely bypassed, including one called the Ray Holt Memphis School Article Collection. There was nothing specific to my family as the papers end before my grandfather would have graduated grammar school in 8th grade.

But the reading was fascinating. All those issues we think of as very modern? They were problems in 1922. My kids’ school used to offer strawberry milk, but lots of complaints from parents about the high sugar content got the milk nixed. Is chocolate milk okay? Do we need organic milk? And what about the waste of those containers? And what about those containers to begin with? Are containers even needed?

According to an article in the Commercial Appeal on February 26, 1922, the “Battle Over Milk Bottles [was] Settled.”

Mrs. Lee made it plain to the board that the parents were unwilling for the milk to be sold in the school lunchroom unless it was brought to the school bottled.

This battle had raged for weeks, and caused standing room only by the PTA at the board of education meeting. Should the milk come in five- and ten-gallon containers and be bottled at school? Or even delivered in the containers and scooped out in cups by the students? In the end, the pre-bottled milk won, although one school protested vehemently and asked to use a different dairy.

And what about the current obesity epidemic? Remember how the kids of yore used to eat so healthy because there were no trans fats and food was natural and healthy and everyone played outside all the time? Turns out they may not have been overweight, but they were certainly not healthy. An article from September 30, 1921: Every child in the Memphis schools was weighed by nurses. And it was determined that “Fat [is] no prerogative of the rich.”

The number of children of sub-standard weight is as great in the select residential districts as in the less pampered parts of the city. This is believed to be due to the over-eating of candy, cakes and ice cream by the children of the wealthy–despite the advice and efforts of physicians and nurses to combat it.

At my grandfather’s grammar school–while he was there–28 percent of the students were underweight. Luckily, I know my great-grandmother was an “Ess ess” (eat eat) type of woman, and judging from photos, my grandfather always appeared to be healthy. In an interview I conducted with him in 1996, he even said:

Every morning [my father] used to take those cows, and somebody had a big piece of ground about two blocks from us, and he would take those cows, … and walk them up to that big area every day and they would graze there and at nighttime he’d bring ‘em back and milk ‘em. … My brother and I used to always say one of those cows was his and one was mine. And I would insist on the milk from my cow. And he would milk the cows in a pail. We’d take the pail of milk up. Dad would bring those pails of milk upstairs and the foam was still on the milk. It was warm and we would drink the milk right as it came from the cow. That’s when milk tastes its finest, by the way, if you would get to recognize it.

Almost makes you wish the milk still didn’t come bottled. Now to see what else I can find….