Monday, February 09, 2009

Hard Times

Only a hermit living in an isolated cave can be unaware of the financial crisis which grips the world. These times are indeed frightening. But I find myself thinking comforting thoughts—the gist of which is this: what we are living through is NOT new in human history.

That’s right—there have been hard times before. And people have survived.

When our son was in grade school, one of his teachers gave the class an assignment—interview your grandparents. Ask them what it was like to live in the Great Depression. So, when he was with his grandparents, our son began asking questions. Grandpa, what was life like for you during the Depression. Same question to Grandma.

The curious thing is that is the only time I ever heard stories from my parents about the Depression years. I just never thought to ask.

My mother’s family probably fared a little better than my dad’s. My mother’s family were mostly farmers. I previously told my mother’s story
here, but a few details serve now. My maternal grandfather owned a dairy farm. Of course, that was hard work, but it also meant there was food. They had their own garden, milk readily available, probably eggs too if they had chickens, which they must have. My mother did say that clothing was harder to get—so she and her sisters used the feed sacks, which were printed with floral designs, to make into dresses.

My dad’s family made the trek from Oklahoma to California, but not for the reasons immortalized in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. My dad’s family moved, so his father could teach at a college in southern California. It was a small church-related school, so my grandfather’s salary was not lavish. Part of his compensation was the fact that his children could attend the college. (When this provision was removed from his contract, it resulted in my grandfather losing his job—but that’s another story, told
here.)

My dad has said that while the family always had food, there were times when only one item was served for dinner. If they had potatoes, well, that was what they had for dinner—potatoes. My dad and his brothers also worked—in their pre-teen and teen years, and contributed some of the money earned to the family finances.

My aunt, my father’s sister, recalls that a few years beyond the Great Depression, as World War II was gearing up, that they had a Victory garden. I don’t know if they called it that, but it was a large vegetable garden where much of the produce they ate was grown.

The Depression was not the only hard times that we have been through. World War II was surely an example of hard times, for many countries. Yet, with all the difficulties that people experienced during the war, people still married and had children. My parents married in 1942 and I was born two months before the end of the war in Europe.

Hard times—yes. We are in hard times—whether at the beginning, or in the middle, or even near the end, only time will reveal. As our family stories can instruct us, there are many things we can do to survive.

And we will survive hard times. We always have.

10 comments:

egretsnest said...

Thanks for this perspective, Donna. It's hard to remember that nothing is new . . . all this feels like it's happening for the first time. This all helps in my goal to ride this out with the best possible attitude.

JeanMac said...

That's a great post - survive we will!

Jayne said...

My parents grew up then too and those times still are very apparent in the way my dad views money and excess. He worked hard to have something, and was even able to retire at 50, but you'd never really know he has means to be very comfortable. He's often said to me that the best thing that could happen to this out of control spending country we've become is another Depression. I hope that is not where we're headed. Great post Donna.

Dog_geek said...

Great post - I went back and read about your grandfather, too. When I went to the grocery store yesterday, there was a young man standing on the corner holding a sign that said "no food." It was a bit of a jolt - I have never seen anyone asking for handouts in our little town before. It makes me wonder how bad things are going to get, and for how long, before all this is over.

NCmountainwoman said...

Yes, we will all get through these hard times. It will be a bit harder for our children's generation than it was for our grandparents. Our grandparents were more self-reliant and realistic about their "needs." Our children's generation grew up demanding what they wanted when they wanted it. They are used to immediate gratification and think credit cards are an unlimited source of easy money. Not satisfied with a "starter" home, they go heavily in debt to buy the perfect house. They have some major changes coming in their lives. But they as well will make it through.

Nice post.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

We forget that there were no social safety nets at the beginning of the Depression. How desperate people must have felt!

My parents were a product of the Depression. They lived by values learned then: thrift, pay your way, get a job and hold on to it, don't waste food, only a house should be paid for on time, pass older clothing along. Don't be too economically adventuresome (my father did start his own company which was a great risk for him)
My mother believed in education as if it were a religion. Get as much education as possible it will guarantee you a better quality of life. I don't know if this is a Depression value or just and aspiring middle class one to raise one's social class.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Another comment if I can be so intrusive. The little town I live near is on the CN main line. It runs down the main street. Besides being a logging community was also a railroad section town. I have had discussion of how people would feed people "riding the rails" as the hoped off the train. People were on the move to find work, any work!

Anvilcloud said...

The Depression affected my mother greatly but not my father so much.

Mary said...

Both of my parents were affected by the Great Depression. My Dad's family couldn't afford to feed the children. My Mom's family were tenant farmers and also wore dresses made from feed sacks. But they made it.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Donna,
I watched a British documentary a few months ago called "1940's House" about a modern day family who went back to what it was like living in London during WWII. I really had no idea of all the things people had to do without and how difficult those times were. It was interesting to see how the family adapted to the hardships and how their lives were changed afterwards. I think I will definitely benefit by learning to live with less "stuff" and becoming more self-reliant. I'm looking forward to tending my own "Victory Garden" this summer.