A while back I had a chance to sit down and have a chat with my grandmother about her experiences during the Great Depression. The pictures are from the FDR Presidential Library. I didn’t pick the pictures to go with the text. I picked them separately, not intending to marry them with my grandmother’s words. I think the “depression” captured in the photos contrasts nicely with my grandmother’s relatively positive remembrances of the time.
Okay I’ll talk about the Great Depression. I was born in 1924 so the Great Depression was in the 1930s. I don’t remember much of it but it was a nice time to live for me. I was too young to really realize it was a depression. It was just normal. We didn’t have anything. But we had a lot of cardboard boxes and balls. We’d play ball.
And we always ate well. My mother worked and my father would go to the packing house.
We didn’t live in a great fancy home or anything so we didn’t have a lot of expenses. We had a lot of neighbors and they were very friendly. That’s how I remember people growing up.
Our neighbors were very nice and most of them came from different countries. Somebody from Sweden. Somebody from Denmark. Somebody from Germany and some people just born here. But people were really friendly.
And I never really had a suspicion of a depression or anything because I wasn’t in need of anything.
I don’t remember my parents being very upset about things. What I hear on the news today of how things are going so bad and I know the banks failed failed back then, but my parents didn’t have any money for the banks anyway.
And we seem to be able to make due with what we had. That was all that they needed, and we didn’t live in a fancy house but it was a nice clean house and we called it home. It had one bedroom and the living room. A couch on the davenport which opened up into a bed that I slept on. We didn’t have much of any closets for clothes.
We had flowers which ran all the way along one side of the house and everybody had a garden. Everybody gardened then. I heard a man on the radio the other day predicting a bad time and that people need to grow their own gardns, grow your own food.
And of course in our time it was a nickel or dime for bread or something, I don’t know how much it costed. It wasn’t very much but that was not like our two dollars and something today.
It was a nice time because people were more sociable. The advent of television made everyone stay in our houses. We all listened to the radio. We didn’t have a telephone for a long time, I don’t know how old I was before we ever got a telephone.
There were always sounds outside. My dad and the neighbor man would stand under his tree and talk for hours, whereas today I don’t even know my neighbors.
We’d go outside and play games with our neighbors and I don’t ever remember being bored.
Once in a while we would go to a movie.
We ate at home. My parents would have people come over and we’d have big dinners. We would go to their homes and have dinner. My first recollection going out to dinner would be going to Green Gables and I think I was in high school at that time.
We would go to church dinners at St. Cashimirs. I remember it was a fun. At Grant school they have the PTA/parent teachers meetings. They would have a treat of some kind, a cookie or something.
A lot of people that would come to visit and we’d play bunko. It’s a game where you throw dice. I don’t remember all the details anymore, but that was a fun game.
We would talk to each other on the bus and the streetcar. The streetcar was a fun thing to ride. I had to walk up only about four blocks to the streetcar line, and that was a fun thing to ride and to talk to people. We would get on there and everybody was friendly. People were generally more sociable.
We would go to the park on the street car. I don’t remember exactly how much they cost but they were reasonable. There was a carnival at River View park, which was right next to Riverside Park. They had a tilt-o-whirl. They had a roller coaster and I did go on it once but I was kind of scared.
One thing I did a lot of was rollerskating. I spent a lot of time on this long sidewalk rollerskating to the school. They had a ice-skating rink at the Park, but my ankles wouldn’t hold. Ice-skating was not my cup of tea. I couldn’t do it very well.
People were nice and it was fun. I know that we can’t go backwards from the money that we’re making now to what way had at that time, but it was a fun time to live.
And we had a guy who would bring ice for the ice boxes. We didn’t have refrigerators, everyone had ice boxes. They would cut ice out from the river during the winter and save it for summer. You had to have the hose that ran outside for when the water melted. During the winter, people would make an ice box out of their window.
We all had to burn coal. We didn’t have gas furnaces like we have now. In early fall someone would come and put coal in the coal bin down in the basement.
Well of course the coal made things kind of dirty. An atmosphere of dust from the burning of the coal. It kind of made the house dirty and smoky. Not bad, but it was there. Anyway seemed to be that every spring you had either wash the walls or repaint them because the coal.
The washing machines. We didn’t have automatic watchers. My mother would have to put the clothes in the machine and then you run it through the ringer into one water and rinse it and then run it from the ringer into the other water and rinse it and then run it from there through the ringer to the basket and then we’d hang them outside as a rule. When the weather was nice that is.
The lawn. They’d always cut the grass. They had to push the lawn mower. It was not gas or anything. I did most of the mowing in the yard. Not when I was really young but when I was older. I took care the yard pretty much. My mom always had flowers. All the neighbors had flowers.
In 1942-43 my parents moved out to the farm. They lived in town before that. They moved out there because of the war. My dad had always found young men to do the work on the farm for him. But because of the war he couldn’t get the workers so they had to move out there. He had to do it himself and so they moved to the farm.
They did not have electricity on the farm. Rural electrification came somewhat later.
When electricity finally did come it was going to cost my parents a lot of money because they lived a little bit away from the road. Fortunately one of the neighbors allowed them to run their lines across his land. Then it only cost them five dollars and that was really nice…
They did not have water running in the house and they had to pump it. They still had to carry in the water they never did have running water in the house. So my mother kind of went backwards moving onto the farm instead of staying in town.
The bathrooms are another thing. We never had a bathroom but we survived. You had to go outside to use the bathroom. That was during the Depression days. I first had an indoor bathroom when I was living in apartments in Kelly Park. But my mother probably had her first indoor bathroom when she moved to Chambers Street.