Friday, March 13, 2009


One Fly from over at Outta the Cornfield has a post up this morning titled Will We See The Same During This Depression. In it he describes some of the things his grandparents and parents did,
and had to do, during the Great Depression.

At the end, One Fly asked for input from his readers about anything they had to share on this subject. So, instead of taking up allot of space in his comments section, I decided to post on what I learned from my parents about what they had to do just to get by. The following is what I was told by Mom and Dad, well, what I do remember, that seems like ages ago that I heard all of this.


Most of the knowledge I received about the Great Depression came from my mother. There are two reasons for this. First, Dad and I weren't very close, he was an alcoholic. Second, he didn't like to talk about it much, too many bad memories I guess.

Both my parents were in high school during the depression, mom graduated in 1933 and dad graduated in 1934.

Dad, an only child, grew up in the city Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, about 20 miles away from where I now live. His father was a typesetter, he worked for the local paper which at that time published a daily paper. Grandpa was employed through the depression, therefore there was always food on the table and a home to live in. Things were still difficult at times because of shortages of basic items, gas, flour, and sugar among other things.

Grandpa put a garden in every year, and grandma would put up veggies for the winter months. I think the depression was harder on grandma because she grew up in a family of jewelers back in Pennsylvania, where my dad and his parents were originally from. They had moved to the Lake Geneva area in 1916 when my dad was 3 years old. When grandma was growing up she didn't want for anything, what ever she wanted was always available.

Things for my mom and her family were much different. Grandpa had worked as a farm hand all his life, so when the depression hit his employment suffered. He took any part-time job he could get. He had to, he had five kids to clothe, house, and feed. Grandma's parents were living with them at the time, also.

Mom grew up just north of the small town where I grew up, which is about 7 miles from here and at the opposite end of the lake (Lake Geneva) from where my dad grew up. Grandpa would take odd jobs working for the well to do folks who lived on the lake. Back then, those people who had 'money' were much different than what we so often see today. Many of them would give grandpa 'extras' like fruits and fresh meat. They all knew how many kids grandpa had at home and how much he and grandma struggled to keep them all fed.

The women would even send used clothes home with grandpa so grandma could have things for my mom and her sister and three brothers to wear. My mom's graduation dress was a used one that grandma had tailored for her.

Grandpa and grandma always had a garden, even before the depression, and still had one when I was growing up. Grandpa stopped gardening when he reached 75, only because grandma made him stop. Grandma would can veggies, fruit, pickles, jams & jellies, and even meat when they had it, so there would always be food for the winter months.

Mac & Cheese....that food that today's kids love so much has it's roots in the Great Depression. That was a staple, people would have that 3-4 times a week. I remember my mom telling me that dad told her that he had it so much during the depression that he couldn't stand it anymore. That didn't stop mom from making it for us though, and she made it with real cheese from a block not that powered stuff they use now.

Soup was a big thing, too. Bean soup, with navy beans, split pea soup, tomato (with real tomatoes), onion, and many others. You can make soup out of just about anything, and they did back then. Soup went a whole lot farther. Hell, you could get several meals out of one big pot of soup. We ate allot of home-made soup when I was growing up, I think that's why I like soup so much now.

People didn't throw anything away, ever. Everything could be used again for one thing or another. That practice stuck with both my parents. I remember mom would save every container she got something in from the grocery store. She'd save boxes, bags, just about anything. Dad would pull nails out of boards and straighten them 'cause "You never know when you're going to need a nail", and then go buy nails. After dad had the stroke that crippled him and put him in the 'home', my brother and I cleaned out his tool shed. I think we found something like about 200 pounds of nails dad had 'straightened', not that they were completely straight, but he tried.

I truly believe that the Great Depression is the reason we have 'pack rats' today. I know I'm one, and so is my wife. We both learned well from our parents! I've tried to get away from being like that over the years, with limited success. Now I wish I hadn't, I've gotten rid of things I wish I still had.

My wife, bless her heart, has developed pack ratting into an art form. I love her with all my being, she's my very best buddy, but she has collected more 'stuff' (all important) then most people could accumulate in two lifetimes. We have an old carriage barn that is filled to the brim, some of it is things that her mother left when we bought the house from my wife's parents, but there isn't much room to move around in it. It's not a small carriage barn either, 40 X 15 plus a full sized loft.

Well, I think that's about it, at least all I can remember at this time. I know there's much more I could put down, but this is getting pretty long as it is. I do wish I new where the pictures were from the depression that my mother gave me, but I don't. If I do find them, I'll try to get some of them posted.

Do any of you have any stories from the depression you'd like to share? Maybe things your parents or grandparents told you? If you do, share them with the rest of us. I think we're all gonna need things to help us get through these tough times.


One Fly said...

That was a great story Gramps and I loved the insight. Thanks for sharing. One Fly

Grandpa Eddie said...

Glad to share, One Fly.

I hope this helps people realize that we can get through this, and that it's allot easier when we have people to lean on, and people know they can lean on us, too.

Cats r Flyfishn said...

Thanks for your great story. My parents were pack rats, too. I don't remember any depression stories even though I knew they lived through the depression. The only stories I remember are my father's bootlegging days during prohibition. Along with some family members, he would bring alcohol from Canada to the US.

Grandpa Eddie said...

Cats r Flyfishn,
I've got a feeling your folks have some great insight into dealing with hard times, especially if the were pack rats.
Thanks for comin' by, hope ya stop back.

Nancy said...

Wonderful story Grandpa Eddie! Interestingly, my grandparents were the complete opposites of pack rats. Because they had to move around quite a bit, they developed a habit of only keeping what was functional and what you used on a daily basis. If they had something in a closet that hadn't been used in several years, it went to charity. Having a lot of stuff was just a burden and too hard to move from place to place.

When my mother passed away a couple years ago, my sister and I went through her large Victorian home to gather items for an estate sale. We were amazed when we discovered how little she had in drawers, cabinets and closets. She kept only what she used even though she lived in the house for 30 years. That inspired me to do the same and it lightened my heart! I now feel freer to go places, visit friends and family, do things I've never done. I no longer feel so tied to my home that I spend all my time cleaning, organizing and moving stuff I don't use around.

My family's experience is just another notch in Great Depression stories.

Grandpa Eddie said...

I wish I could my wife to dump some of the stuff she's collected over the years. It would give us a little more room in the house, maybe even be able to rent out the spare bedroom which has become a warehouse.

Nancy said...

When I finally got rid all the stuff in our spare room, it became an exercise room with treadmill, weights, stereo and tv - nothing else. So much nicer than a shut door to hide the junk. It also helped us to get back in shape. Change is good! :)

Grandpa Eddie said...

Yeh, we've got one of those treadmills, it's sittin' in the hall outside that spare bedroom that's actually a storeroom.

Slock said...

I like your story.
My grandparents were packrats too. My grandmother saved those styrofoam meat trays from the grocery store. She also would sew up a hundred dollar bill in here house dress. She hid her stocks in a vacuum cleaner bag. When she died we were scared to get rid of any of her things.

Grandpa Eddie said...

Slock - My mom saved those styrofoam trays, too. She would hide different things in different places, so you never knew where you would find a roll of bills or coins.