Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Great Depression and Politics

The economic meltdown has prompted several people to write stories about the depression. We each have different memories and I will share mine.

I was only 4 years old when the banks failed so I have no memory of the shock this brought about. My earliest memory was of parties given in the lodge building that adjoined our living quarters.

My grandmother was an accomplished musician and had used the money she made leading the orchestra for silent movies and for giving music lessons to purchase a cottage court. The lobby was a large room; so large that the Church used to hold dances there and, ultimately, depression parties.
(See photos. Click on them to enlarge them you will see where I grew up.)

People were getting by on very little and entertainment was not an item in most budgets. Not only was the economy depressed, but so were the people. My grandmother decided to do what she could to help and started holding depression parties every Saturday night in the lobby. These were always potluck dinners with each family bringing what they could and my grandmother furnishing the main dish.

There was usually a theme to the parties. I remember one party was to be a costume ball and people were told to dress as hobos or in raggedy clothes. (Obviously, costumes would have been too expensive). It was called ‘A Tacky Party’. When there was no entertainment planned, my grandmother would play the piano for dancing and she was sometimes joined by a banjo player or another musician. Entire families were invited so I was allowed to attend. I remember looking forward to Saturday night. I am sure I was not alone because it was a time for neighbors to laugh and forget their troubles.

Sad incidents stand out as memories of economic hardships. A little girl in my class named Harriet, wore glasses. Her glasses were broken in a playground mishap; several bullies were harassing her. She was in tears saying the welfare people told her to take care of them because she wouldn’t get another pair. She left school right after that so I don’t know whether she got another pair of glasses or not.

One Halloween a group of us were trick or treating and we stopped at a very small run down house. The man invited us in and offered us each an apple from a barrel containing rotting apples. I didn’t want to take one because there were about six small children there. They were obviously very poor and I think those apples were the most food they had.

Men came to our back door regularly asking if there was any work they could do for food. None left our house hungry. Sometimes my grandmother would give them a small job, but if she didn’t have work she still gave them food. Men came to the front door selling all kinds of gadgets and one of the kitchen drawers overflowed with can openers purchased from them. Other men made rustic furniture out of bent branches and our lodge became furnished with the blasted uncomfortable pieces. (you can see those miserable chairs and couches in the photos. The had nails that snagged your clothes.)

Another memory I have is of the dust storms as piles of silt banked against our house. That fine silt was the top soil blown all the way from Kansas farms to our home in Colorado Springs. The farmer’s themselves soon followed their top soil and stayed at the cottage court en route to California. (John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes Of Wrath paints an accurate description of this mass migration.) Some of the people didn’t have money to continue on their way. They stayed camped on the area of the cottage court that was set up for tents. Many stayed until they got a small job to earn the money to move on. Some 'tenters' never could pay the rent and my grandmother always sent them on their way telling them to send what they could after they got back on their feet. For years after my grandmother died checks were still coming in from California. I believe every single one repaid their debt.

Because my grandparents were the only ones in our family with an income during those years, she supported my mother and me, my Uncle and his family and half the neighborhood. Because of that I didn’t fare any better than other children and my birthday presents were always new hair ribbons and underwear. When school started I got a new pair of shoes for Sunday and the old ones became my school shoes. I don’t remember feeling deprived, but I'm afraid that's selective memory. (Now when I see the closets of my granddaughters I am amazed at the size of their wardrobes. If things continue to get worse, that may change.)

The impoverished elders suffered the worst. Widows were cruelly evicted from their houses when they were unable to pay the property taxes. Unscrupulous men who had money became wealthy on this despicable practice. If the elders had no place to go they ended up in the Poor Farm. Charles Dickens could have written a scathing novel about the indignities they suffered.

Anyone who would like to abolish Social Security never witnessed the fate of a bankrupt Elder prior to the enactment of that legislation. And those who belittle welfare, as Ronald Reagan did in his infamous lie about the Cadillac driving welfare queen, have never been down on their luck through no fault of their own.

So don't preach to me about 'Socialized' government. Conservatives love to paint the poor as lazy louts lacking in ambition. Ironically, it's okay for the government to pay large agri-businesses to not grow crops, give large corporations hefty tax breaks, and give large tax cuts to the already wealthy. I call that Socialized help for the upper crust.

I hope we never have to go back to those bleak times, but we will all have to tighten our belts. The trickle down voodoo economics is now in tatters. It didn't work and another depression looms large.

Now for the winner of the Sarah Palin's future job contest:


Ugich Konitari who thinks Sarah will star in a film called "I Betcha."


Sylvia who says Sarah will vent her anger on the Moose and Polar Bears in Alaska.
(I think she is already doing that , Sylvia)

Cop Car who has a fantasy of Sarah working for one of the physics high-energy particles labs and explaining to us average folks what it is they're doing. (Huh?)

Kenju and Joy think she will run for the Senator from Alaska.
(Sadly, you're probably closest to being right.)

Thank you ladies for your entries. The contest is over.

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One Woman's Journey said...

Darlent, no comment other then to say "I love the way you write"
Thank you for your comments on my journal.
Have a good evening.
Fondly E

Darlene said...

Your welcome, Ernestine for my comment and thank you for your compliment.

kenju said...

Thanks for the mention, Darlene.

I recently read a great book about the dust bowl, but I can't remember the name of it. I used to hear my parents talk about the Depression and how bad times were then.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Well, I wasn't around for the first Depression, but I'm certainly not liking where things are heading right now. This was a very interesting and informative post Darlene...thank you.

And...thanks for the mention in the Sarah contest....You Betcha.

Nancy said...

Hello Darlene,

You brought back a lot of memories to me about the great depression; None of them good..

We lived outside of a big city and men used to come to our door all the time for a bit of food. My Mother was always making something to give them. We wondered how they knew to come to our house and not our neighbors . Then one of these fellows told my Dad to come and look at something outside and what he showed my Dad was a "Mark" on our house. He told us that if the owner of the house gave them anything,they "marked" that house for the next poor guy. That's why they knew to come to our place for food..

Then you mentioned "socialized help"for the upper crust. Well, I have been in line at the supermarket and have heard people grumble because a poor Mom used some food stamps to buy a little ice cream or some other treat for her kids. "Disgraceful",they say.

How hypocritical! I have also been in a first class restaurant and seen a group of businessmen eating everything from Martinis and Filet Mignon and then charging it to the "Company" to be used as a business expense tax deduction.

I call that "FOOD STAMPS FOR THE RICH.......

I will be remembering all of these things when I step up to the voting machine Tuesday,Nov.4th.......Vote Obama!

Sylvia K said...

I was born at the beginning of the depression so I don't have any memories of my own, but I do remember listening to my parents talk about it later. We lived with my grandparents during much of the depression, my father moving from one small job to another. You paint a very vivid picture. Thank you.

Darlene said...

Kenju, You're welcome. It really was bad and I hope wise economist will guide President Obama in the right direction. (How's that for optimism?)

Joy, You're welcome. We just have to bear in mind that people somehow survived and they will again.

Nancy, I love your food stamps for the rich. Good one.

Sylvia, I think a lot of families had to double up during those days. We may see a lot of married folks moving back home now.

Anonymous said...

How honored I feel to be in such good company on the Sarah Palin contest. Thank you, Darlene! "Winning" makes me feel good all over.
Cop Car

Rinkly Rimes said...

What a vivid picture of the Depression. My family lived i the South of England and my father was a teacher so we didn't experience the hardships of the North and labourers. However, my father used to umpire cricket matches on Saturday mornings and buy our only meat on the way home, from the proceeds. But it's true that you don't feel hard-done-by if everyone around you is in the same boat.

ugich konitari said...

Darlene, I am absolutely honored to receive the prize. If and when I ever reach Tucson, I will take you to see the movie. .....:-)

Darlene said...

Cop Car, it was a difficult decision to make and I wavered on possibly giving you first place for creativity.

Rinkly Rimes, we were lucky that we didn't go hungry as so many did.

Ugich Konitari, I live in Tucson. Are you here too? If so, we must get together.

ugich konitari said...


I am in Mumbai , 12,000 miles away. But one can always hope and wish that one can meet one's friends someday ! Maybe we can both have a virtual cup of tea together (like I had Barbara's virtual cake.....:-)

donna said...

Thanks, Darlene. Hopefully we'll keep the worst of the depression from happening again this time.

Darlene said...

Gappa, Sorry I misread your comment. I hope you will come to Tucson someday.

Donna, thanks for stopping by. I hope we can avoid a depression. Yesterday things were looking a bit better, but at best it's going to be a rough road for awhile.

Lydia said...

I really loved this post. And the pictures of where you grew up! What a lodge. My mother was getting dressed for her graduation when the lights were turned off in their home in Santa Monica, CA. My g-mother had held on long enough for my mom to graduate high school. And then they were off, along with my aunt who was a youngster - like you at that time - to a "ranch" owned by my uncle and his wife in the mountains of Trinity County, CA. It was a cabin, really, with one bedroom and an outhouse. But it was a blessing and the stories my mother told were among her happiest and definitely colorful.

Your story brought back some of her stories tonight for me. Thanks so much!

Lorna said...

Wow, a poignant description of the Great Depression - I've read the Grapes of Wrath twice and have never forgotten parts of it - the desparate eating of grapes and peaches, the giving of the lollipops to the 2 young boys, the representation of the mother figure, the ending .... How poor people were viewed as desparate criminals by those richer.

Magpie 11 said...

Hi Darlene
May a mere male join this blog list?

I'm here via Grannymar. Have just read your piece on the depression.

Even having grown up in rural England in the 50s (my father milked cows for a living)and having moved from place to place continuously I have no real knowledge of the Depression years...except some of the great music that came out of them..Your piece helps....

Your comments about social welfare are well made...over here there are peole (starting with Thatcher, friend of Reagan) who would love to see the end of such things here. Luckily there are enough who will work against such changes.

My worry is that there are so many who call themselves Christian that believe these regressive things.

I'll be back to read more.

Darlene said...

Lydia, Lorna and Magpie - Thank you all so much for visiting my blog. I hope you will return.