MY LIFE AND TIMES LIVING THRU THE GREAT DEPRESION OF THE 1930s
I have written a few other articles about life in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Because of the increased interest at this time, I decided to write more about it.
Things have changed rather dramatically in this country in the past year. Currently, unemployment is rising at an alarming rate, stock market falling, homes being lost, food stamp lines getting longer, empty malls appearing on the horizon. Instability over money, banks folding and a host of events are causing some to think this recession is a forerunner of another Great Depression. Personally I do not know, and doubt if any-one does.
I do know there is an increased interest in the Great Depression of the 1930s and a desire of some to know more about how people coped and got through it. An attempt to compare life back then to what may happen in the future. It’s a different time and different circumstances.
Personally, I’m living in the ninth decade of life and each decade has been quite different. It’s as though I have lived several lives in this one, because each decade I have lived in different places, under different circumstances. But my life has been interesting and sometimes must pinch myself, wondering was that really me at such and such a time.
But this is about the first seventeen years of my life, preceding, during and after the Great Depression.
In the first part I described a bit about my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
My first memory is living in this large house, which my maternal grandparents once lived in. My sister, two years younger was sitting on a, “pallet” on the porch and all of a sudden fell over, limp as a dishrag and my mother shaking and screaming to revive her.
We ran all the way down the red clay road to my paternal grandparent’s house, jumped in his T-model car and he drove us to a doctor. She had eaten an apple and was comatose. Nothing the doctor could do to awaken her. On the return home we stopped at an ice-house, and she was put in a tub of ice to shock her, but still she did not wake up. My parents sat with her all night, and strangely the next morning she awakened as though nothing happened. It was my mother screaming that is so vivid in my mind.
Later we moved into a house built by my great grandfather who fought in the civil war, on a farm adjacent to my paternal grandfather’s farm. We lived there until I was fifteen, and it was growing up there during the depression I have rather vivid memories. We had no electricity, and I still have the little kerosene lamp I studied by at night from my first day at school.
Back then, all the farm houses had lots of out buildings, to house the cows, mules used to plow the land, horses, and buildings to store feed in for the animals.
On one side of the house was an apple orchard. In the front yard was a pear tree. Beyond that was a wood-pile and a hen house, where wood was chopped for the fireplace and the cook stove. The chickens slept in the hen house and we gathered eggs every day.
In the rear was a huge walnut tree and a back porch led to a well, where we drew water. Another source of water was a spring, down a path leading from the house. When the cows were milked, the milk was strained, and some put in gallon jugs and taken to the spring to keep cool, then some was placed in churns to clabber overnight, then churned the next day for butter and buttermilk.
On the back porch, across it were shelves, where buckets of water were kept and tubs, we drew water for and bathed in. Leading off the back door steps through the apple orchard was an outhouse.
The kitchen was the largest room in the house, with a fireplace in one end and a large wood stove, where food was cooked and water heated. In the center was a large harvest table. Along the sides of the kitchen were bins for flour and meal and cabinets for food storage.
Back then all bedrooms had fireplaces for heat and all houses had large halls down the center for a breezeway in the summer to stay cool. All outside entrances had a door plus a screen door to keep flies out plus all windows had screens over them. We never locked doors back then. We felt safe from intruders.
The living room area had a double bed in it, chest of drawers, rockers and chairs and a quilting frame that was rolled up to the ceiling when not in use.
A pedal sewing machine was kept in one corner of the kitchen and rolled out near harvest table, where my mother cut out patterns from newspapers and made clothes, sheets and pillow cases.
On another side of the house, at the edge of the yard was a garden, and a small herb garden and another large barn. Used to store cotton to take to the gin house for baling, and on one side peanuts were stored when pulled out of the ground.
Beside that barn was a smoke house where meat was cured. When hogs were slaughtered in the fall in cool weather the hams and sides of meat were cured with salt, then hams smoked. There was no refrigeration. Meat was cured by salt and smoke. Sausage was ground with added salt and sage, placed in cotton, stocking style containers and hung to cure for the winter. There was a technique to preparation of meat for curing. Farmers knew how to handle to prevent spoilage.
Neighbors would gather and help each other during, “hog killing” time.
In the fall, apples and peaches were thin sliced, placed on a tin with a sheet over it, placed in the sun to dry. When the fruit dried it was placed in clean cotton bags or jars. Back then there was no tin-foil, plastic wrap nor zip-lock bags. As I recall we did have wax paper.
My mother usually canned about 800 jars of vegetables and fruits in a pressure cooker, in glass jar: Beans, corn, tomatoes, etc for the winter season. Beef was killed and cooked in glass jars in the pressure cooker.
Jams and jellies were made from apples, blackberries, and peaches. Juices were ground strained, cooked and caned. Things like tomato juice, wild blackberry juice and apple juice. If we were sick, no solid foods only juices. And there is something quite medicinal about wild blackberry juice.
Wheat was grown for flour and corn for cornmeal. Plus corn was stored in the barns to feed the pigs. The corn was taken to a corn-meal for grinding, and once a year the thrashers would go thru the community from house to house to thrash the wheat which was taken to a mill for grinding into flour.
A large mound of dirt was shoveled to make the mound to store sweet potatoes in for the winter.
Every farm house had an underground house built with shelves in it to store all the canned goods so they would not freeze. Steps led down to the cellar. Also used as a storm cellar. If a tornado was coming, everyone went to the cellar.
All kinds of relishes were made to eat with meats and vegetables, like corn relish, pear and tomato relish.
Eating habits were very much along the line of seasons. In the spring and summer, things like green, beans, squash, corn, peas. In the fall it was collards, turnip greens, spinach and rutabagas.
Every morning my mother got up early, fired up the wood stove and cooked hot biscuits, gravy, ham, fried chicken. Sometimes we had oatmeal and grits. Noon time was called dinnertime and we had a big meal. In the evening was called supper-time, and we always had a bowl of cornbread and milk. We were taught not to go to bed on a heavy duty meal, only allowed cornbread and milk. And we grew up so healthy. Went to bed knowing we would wake up to the wonderful smell of fresh biscuits in the old wood stove.
We got all the news of the outside world via radio, newspapers and magazines. We read about long soup lines in the cities. On into the depression years some families would run short of food and kill wild rabbits and possum to eat, but we never did that. We always had plenty of great food to eat. Money was very scarce during the thirties but we had aunts who worked in the cotton mills and they would come with staples, like salt, sugar, coffee, cocoa, soda, baking powder and things which could not be grown on the land.
Another thing we ate a lot of was cabbage. We had boiled cabbage, fried cabbage and a wonderful relish called, “chow-chow.” My mother baked wonderful cakes and cookies, and a favorite dessert was chocolate pudding made from cocoa, fresh eggs and milk and butter. And another thing, we gathered wild muscadines to have wonderful jelly.
My father grew cane to make sorghum in the fall. We had bee-hives and he harvested the honey.
Another great southern food was okra. We had fried okra, boiled okra and okra in stews.
We grew onions and white potatoes.
Some families back in the hills of North Georgia made it through the depression years making corn liquor, known as white lightening and selling it. Those who could outwit the feds stayed out of jail.
Then President Roosevelt implemented the CCC camps and some young men joined that for income. They built roads, bridges, railroads, did forestry work and the like for income for their families to survive on.
As the decade of the thirties ended and we entered the forties and the war broke out, people moved off the farms and went into the military or went to work in war plants, building tanks and planes. There was more industrialization as people moved away from the farms.
As I recall the thirties, with fond memories we had plenty of what we needed. Everyone worked and worked together, and helped each other. On Sundays, everyone rested, families got together and discussed politics, the economy, farming, schools, and enjoyed times together.
All the hype about what Roosevelt did for recovery during the depression is not what I heard during those years. He was despised by many, and criticized for paying farmers to plow under crops and run pigs into the Mississippi river.
As I recall living thru the Great Depression, it was a time the American people worked hard, worked together, using their creativity and ingenuity, and common sense with pride and common decency, in a spirit of freedom and voluntary exchange of goods and services. Families working together, neighbors helping each other, this country worked thru a depression when the government removed the gold from the dollar backing and ordered crops plowed under and limited the amount farmers could grow.
In my opinion this country did not pull out of the Great Depression because of President Roosevelt and political government but in spite of it.
Furthermore, there’s no comparison with then and now. The amount of government intrusion in the lives of the American people is far greater now than then. The increase in taxes, the increase in polices, rules, regulations and edicts on every level, federal, state, county and city are so restrictive, the people do not have the means of survival they had back there in the 1930s.
Nowadays no one can do anything without obtaining a piece of paper, card or permit from some government employee to do anything. Back then in the thirties when the depression hit, the only ones who had fears from political government were those hard-working souls who chose to make corn liquor to make a living. And they were a small minority. Sadly they were put out of business and replaced by government mandated liquor stores.
By the time president Roosevelt and his regime of New Dealers finished, everyone had cause for concern as the result of the rules and regulations perpetrated upon the lives of all Americans. And since he died in 1945, thousands of laws, rules regulations and restrictions have been imposed upon everyone living in this nation. A continuation of what he started.
In this era of the twenty-first century, the ingenuity, creativity, hard work with a sense of self-responsibility of individuals, has brought about a way of life one could not imagine back in the thirties. We have television, computers, electricity and phones for everyone. We have washing machines, dishwashers, airplanes to ride, cars to drive, and too many luxuries to mention. But we have lost the most precious thing we had, and that’s individual freedom and rights to private ownership of property.
If we are going to be so presumptuous to compare life now to life in the thirties, in the so-called Great Depression, let’s be honest and begin with what we have lost: our individual freedom. I didn’t read about it nor hear about it, I lived it back then. And believe me, life was a picnic compared to today. And what has happened to this country. And the worst may yet to come.
George Washington said: “Paper money has had the effect in your state that it will ever have, to ruin commerce, oppress the honest, and open the door to every species of fraud and injustice.” And so it has.
LET FREEDOM RING
The Freedom Lady