Friday, March 16, 2012

Memories of the Great Depression

I think the Ohio Department of Aging is to be commended for its Great Depression Story Project. Published in four parts during 2009, it's a collection of the recorded memories of those who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930's. Not only is it a valuable historical resource, but with our own economic situation as parlous as it is right now, we might all be able to learn something from these reminiscences of how our forefathers coped under even worse circumstances.

Here are a few excerpts from the very extensive collection.

"Eating was different in those days, too. We didn't come to a table and complain because the food wasn't what we liked. There were not many choices. We ate or went without. Some days bread and gravy tasted very good."
- Maxine Bartelt, age 85, Columbus

"After working in the mill all day my dad came home to a supper of baked beans on toast - one Campbell's regular size can divided among the three of us; two slices of toast for dad, two for mom and one for me. My mother in later years said she never wanted to see another bean."
- Mildred Redman Dieter, age 81, Youngstown

"I saw some of the kids (at school) eat banana rinds that other kids had thrown away. Mom would pack my lunch with bread and apple butter and sometimes I had a fried egg sandwich and that was better than a lot of them had. Thank God."
- Charles Warrick, age 81, Barnesville

"What I remember most is my high school days 1932-1936. We never received new books issued to us. At the end of the school term, we would all get a book, scotch tape and eraser. It was our job to mend the book, erase any marks and make the book presentable so that the next class could use them without trouble."
- Pauline Bandzk, age 91, Hubbard

"School was very hard. We lacked clothing, school supplies, we used dip pens to do our school work and it was hard to be neat... For theme paper, I sometimes had to take paper out of a wastebasket and erase to use... Once I had to stay home because we did not have 25 cents for a workbook. I had to try out for the basketball team in stocking feet as I had no tennis shoes... An Uncle's old suit coat and my turtleneck shirt from an Aunt made up my basic wardrobe, making me look like Ichabod Crane. It was demoralizing and created a severe inferiority complex for me."
- Bernard L. Kasten, age 90, Lucas

"During the Depression we had many door-to-door salesman. One singer sewing machine salesman, after a negative response to his sales pitch, offered to leave the sewing machine for a trial period. My mother sewed from morning till night all that week, turning my dad's frayed shirt collars and cutting her cloths down to fit me. When the salesman came back, she said she hadn't changed her mind, she still didn't want the machine. Little did he know how much it had been used."
- Mildred Redman Dieter, age 81, Youngstown

"In the thirties, Mom and Dad had their hands full financially raising us five children. Dad only worked two days a week at Goodyear - these days they call it rotating. Mom was an excellent seamstress, but was short on funds for buying sewing material. A friend of Dad's worked at an auto wrecking yard. He volunteered to cut the headliner out of quality cars, so Mom had all the material she could use, thanks to Packards and Cadillacs."
- Robert Schwalbach, age 82, Akron

"We made our own lye soap, which we shaved to wash clothes in a wringer washer. We also used feed sacks to make clothes, sheets, pillowslips and even underwear. We would happily share hand-me-downs with other relatives. I accused my mother of purposely making my underwear three sizes too big just so they would last a long time. When I was in the third grade, I needed glasses. To pay for them, my father worked in a local grocery store and also worked for a 'threshing ring,' which was a small group of local farmers who would pay my father to help with his steam-powered thresher."
- Evelyn Brewer Neff Mitrione, age 86, Pickerington

"During the winter months we would often wake up with snow on our beds from cracks in the windows. We could not afford to buy new windows so we covered them with oil cloth. To keep our feet warm at night we would heat a brick on our coal stove, cover it with a small blanket, and take it to bed with us."
- Violet Hardin, age 89, Wapakoneta

"We were a family of eight and my father was a carpenter. During the Depression there was almost no building going on. Because of this, my father had very little work. When he did work, the owner of the company was often unable to pay him. and my mother would go to him and have to beg for a couple dollars to buy necessities, like flour, to help her feed the family. My sister and I peddled papers in Zoar. We also had to clean the two-room school every day after school. My oldest brother had to go to school early every day and build a fire in the downstairs and upstairs stoves so the school was warm when it started. In the summer, we would sell bouquets of wild violets for a nickel to people visiting Zoar. Around 1930, the Zoar Dance Hall was built. At 15 and 16 years old, my sister and I got jobs working there selling tickets and making sandwiches. We would walk home alone at 2 or 3 in the morning. As with all our jobs, the money went to our parents. If we found a penny, we thought we really had something."
- Irene Class Haueter, age 94, Bolivar

"Dad was on the school board and when there wasn't enough money to pay the teachers, they were offered a small stipend plus room and board. The room and board was provided by the board members. I can remember being very proud about having a teacher stay at 'our house.'"
- Martha McMahon, age 85, Medina

"Over the hill about a half mile through the woods, was a row of coal company houses where people lived who had worked in the mines before they closed. Some had found jobs but most were unemployed. These houses were a faded red and we called the street 'Red Row,' and the kids who came up through the woods to go to school with us, we called 'Red Rowers.' They had strange names: Peter Galice and Peter Valinski are two I remember. They were poor and a little different. One day after lunch, Peter Galice smelled so strong, it made me gag. He must have eaten a raw garlic sandwich for lunch. We never cooked with garlic at my house, and the smell was strange and repugnant to me. I remember complaining to the teacher. My brother recalls eating an orange on the way to school. Oranges were a treat we received on Christmas or special occasions. One of the Red Rowers was walking to school behind us and asked if he could pick up the orange peels and eat them. That was as close to an orange as he would have for a few years. It was 1940 and times were rough for most people."
- Julia K. Swan, age 76, Cambridge

"After a few days there, my father was very concerned about our survival. One cold winter morning, he got up very early, dressed as warmly as he could and left walking. He said: 'I will not be back until I find a job.' My mother was very worried about him; she thought he may not make it back. He stopped at a farm house four miles away. A man (there) had a trucking business. My Dad told the man: 'We have just moved in. I have no job. I have a wife and nine children. I need work. We have no coal for heat and very little food.' The man said: 'Go with me today and help me, we will get coal and groceries on the way home.' There was no phone; we did not know where he was. At 10 p.m., we saw a vehicle coming up the lane. It was the man with the trucking business. I will never forget the tears in my Mother's eyes, as she hugged my Dad. My Dad worked for the man for $1 a day, until spring. He then got a job working on the road, pounding up rocks. He got $1 a day."
- Neva Rees, age 87, Marietta

There are many more at the link. Very highly recommended reading. Kudos to the Ohio Department of Aging for making the collection available online.



trailbee said...

What stories. I wonder how these elders feel about the prospect of reliving the 30s and 40s. I am impressed.

Julie said...

v.v.interesting ... i'm think i'm going to get my kids to read some of it.

Julie said...

Update, Miss 10 is very interested in the stories ..

Carteach said...

In the context of our lives today, amazing stuff.

POWERFUL lessons in those words.

Anonymous said...

My mom, who died in 2009 at the age of 91 often told me stories of "the Great depression" and her experiences living through it.

She lived and grew up in Hackensack, NJ, which fared a little better than the Mid-West and her father was a mailman (one who walked his entire 12 mile route every day).


He often had to skip a weeks pay cause the government didn't have the money to pay out. Sure they gave him promisory note, but they didn't put food on the table.

My mother related stories about having to put newspaper in her only pair of shoes because they had holes worn in the bottom, lunch was two-pieces of bread taken to school, dinner consisting of beans on toast many evenings.

My mother looked into the distance when she told me my grandmother often skipped dinner (under the pretence of not being hungry) so my grandfather and the kids could have a decent amount of food.

Kids may think they have life tough today, but they'll never experience the deprevation that those of the "Great depression" did.

Thanks mom, where ever you are. You made me appreciate the blessings of family, sacrifice and perseverance.


raven said...

Put's our modern American "poor" into perspective, eh?