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The Great Depression

I am sure it was very difficult for Mom and Dad, but their faith in God and their love of the family made us kids rich indeed.

Carol asked me, “How did people cope during the Great Depression?  You mention little pits and pieces in your stories but you never put it all together.” 

How did people cope during the Great Depression?  I was so young I really can tell only about my family.  My parents were honest, hard working, frugal, thrifty, economical, independent, dependable, proud, people of great faith in God, and they believed that they had the responsibility of their family, not the government.  Daddy and Momma worked together as a team.

One of the first things I remember (it was in Springfield, Ohio) was riding in the car and Daddy making disparaging remarks about signs in some of the store windows that said, “ NRA”  That stood for National Recovery Association.  He felt that the government was wrong.  I KNEW that Daddy was a very smart man and if he said so, it was wrong.  I know that later it was all deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. 

The next memory was of the homeless men coming through town looking for work.  They rode the trains and were called hobos.  Mother fed anyone who came hungry.  She believed in sharing whatever we had. She warned us not to walk anywhere without her though, only to school and back.

I was six and playing in the front yard when Daddy came home early.  He was carrying his clock…the one he had on his desk at work, and his picture of the family.  He went into the house telling us to play outside until he and Mother called us.  Now he was without work.

Daddy sold the new car, a Graham Paige.  We moved out of the most beautiful house we ever lived in.  We moved into the downstairs of an old house in Urbana, Ohio.  Daddy took any job he could find.  One job had to do with inoculating chickens and he had to go from farm to farm.  Daddy bought a whole or half pig (I don’t know which) for $5.00.  I remember seeing him cut it up and together he and Momma canned the meat.  We went into the country on Sundays after church and picked wild grapes growing along the fences.  Momma canned enough juice for us for the whole winter.  We gathered black walnuts.  Daddy spread them out on the floor of the old barn that had been converted into a garage.  As he drove the car over the nuts they gave up their husks and later we could pick up the nuts.  Momma of course made all of our bread.  When our shoes wore through the soles Daddy patched them with rubber soles purchased in a kit.  If those soles came loose we could “flap” them as we walked along and we thought that was great fun.  Then Daddy would glue them back on again. 

In the spring of 1934 we moved back to Winona Minnesota so Daddy could build a house for Grandma and Grandpa Jennings on the side of the bluff overlooking Lake Winona.  I have written several stories about that summer.  We had a large garden, a rented cow, and a flock of ducks.  We canned nearly all of the food we would eat for the next winter. We kids had fun singing:

  Beans, beans the musical fruit,
  The more you eat the more you toot,
  The more you toot, the better you feel,
  So let’s have beans for every meal.

We moved into a little house in town.  Again Daddy had to take any job he could find to support us. Mother had to take care of all five of us children when Daddy had to go away as far as Steven’s Point, Wisconsin for one job.  He would only get home for weekends.  I don’t know how she did it all.  At one point both twins nearly died with the mumps.  They called Daddy home.

The next year we moved to Goodview where we lived in a little house that cost $3,000.  Daddy built on a kitchen and one bedroom.  We had one fourth of a block of land.  Daddy built a chicken coop and yard.  He and Momma planted a huge garden where we raised vegetables and some fruits.  We sold eggs and also chickens.  Momma made all of our clothes.  Many dresses were made from flour sacks.  Lots of those were printed with flowers so the dresses were pretty.  Aunty Rose passed down her old clothes and Momma made lovely things for us.  We never looked “dowdy” or “made over”.  I had my first ever new winter coat when I was in college.  Momma cut everyone’s hair.  She was good at it.

I have a vivid memory of Daddy at dusk, in hot weather, after he had worked all day, standing, in a sleeveless under shirt, his curly hair hanging onto his forehead, with a hose in one hand watering the garden while he swatted a towel back and forth to keep the mosquitoes away. 

One job that Daddy had was at a Malting Plant.  When it came out in the paper that Herby and Katy were officers at the Jr. Temperance League, Daddy lost his job.  That was one time that I remember Mother really feeling ‘down’.  She was standing in the kitchen after Daddy called on the telephone telling her the news.  She was fighting back tears.  Then the doorbell rang and there stood our minister, calling for the first time that I ever knew.  Hope came back and with it determination, knowing that God was indeed listening to her prayers.

After a series of jobs Daddy was able to take out a loan and buy into a Standard Oil filling station.  As I remember it, he had to pay 1 cent, per every gallon
of  gas sold, back to the bank on the loan.  His mark up was 1 1/2 cents per gallon so he had to sell lots of gas.  He did do lots of grease jobs, oil changes, other mechanical work, and tire sales.  The twins had to work part of the time at the station.  They started working when they were 11 years old and even moved cars from the parking spots to the stalls, onto the hoists and back by the time they were 12. They were good at greasing cars by the time they were 12 also.

Everything we did, we did as a family.  Each of us had our responsibilities toward the whole.  We grew up with a work ethic.  Daddy always said, “Don’t wait to be asked.  If you see something needs to be done, DO IT.”  Another statement that I remember well was, “I don’t ever want to come home and see you just playing if your mother is working.”  Mother never quit working so you know we learned to do our part also.

We probably were “poor”.  But we didn’t know it.  We had so much love, in a very close family.   I am sure it was very difficult for Mom and Dad, but their faith in God and their love of the family made us kids rich indeed.