On my last post I made the statement that this is the worst economic downturn I could remember since the Great Depression. That prompted a comment requesting me to write about the Great Depression and how it impacted my life.
The economists keep telling us that we are in a Recession and that the stimulus package kept us from sliding into a Depression. I have no doubt that this is true, but I am sure it feels like a Depression to the millions who have lost their jobs and homes. The Washington Post just reported that the number of mortgages that are delinquent has risen to 14%. The jobless rate is over 10%. Try telling those unfortunate people that this isn't the same as a Depression.
For the wealthy, things couldn't be better. Some will take advantage of the misfortune of the losers and buy up those mortgages at pennies on the dollar. CEO's that caused this disaster walk away with billions. Is it no wonder that people are angry?
Since I have 'been there and done that' I will try to recreate what life was like during the Great Depression. Because there was no Workman's Compensation the unfortunate jobless had to scrounge any way they could to feed their families. I don't think a day went by without several salesmen ringing our front doorbell selling can openers, home made furniture, Bibles, or anything else they could peddle for a small commission. Other men knocked on the back door begging for any kind of work in exchange for a meal. Bread lines were long and pathetic. Still other men without travel money rode the rails to another part of the country where they hoped to find work.
My husband's brother-in-law was one of those men. He was a trucker by profession and he was out of a job. He boarded a box car in California in the winter and nearly froze to death. When the train stopped in Utah he was treated to a hot meal and warm clothing by the Salvation Army and he blessed them the rest of his life for saving him. His story was not unique.
The lucky ones who still had a job helped the less fortunate in any way they could. My grandmother gave a party each Saturday night for the entire neighborhood. Because nearly everyone was in the same boat, there was no shame in being hard up. But people needed an escape from the worry and cares of every day life. Few had money for an evening out, so the parties were well attended. The meal was always a pot luck and people brought what they could. My grandmother would play the piano for dancing and would be joined by anyone who could play an instrument. The whole family was invited so the children had some fun too.
I was more fortunate than some children. My grandmother was able to support my mother and me; my Uncle and his wife and son; as well as helping strangers. Nonetheless, I was not privileged. My birthday presents were predictable. Hair ribbons and panties. I had two pair of shoes. When school started I would get new school shoes. When I outgrew them my Sunday shoes became school shoes and I would get new Sunday shoes. I got two new dresses when school started. Some children wore hand-me-downs from a charity or a friend.
I was not spoiled materially because my family would have felt guilty if I had more than other children. I never knew what it was like to go hungry, but it was drilled into me from day one that I was never to waste food. I was only to take as much on my plate as I could eat and, believe me, I had better eat every scrap I took.
I will tell of two examples of how difficult times were for some families. A little girl who attended my elementary school wore glasses provided to her by welfare. One day her glasses got broken on the play ground and she burst into tears because she had been told to take good care of them; she would not be given another pair.
One Halloween some of us were going trick or treating and we knocked at the door of a very humble house. The man opened the door and there must have been 6 or 8 children in that family. They had a big barrel of apples that had been donated to them. Some of the apples were rotten, but he offered an apple to each of us. I remember not wanting to take it because I knew that might be the most food they had. (It will probably shock some people to know that this kind of hunger still exists in our country.)
John Steinbeck's award winning novel, 'The Grapes Of Wrath' is not only a good read, but it will tell you more about what the Depression was like than I could. The Dust Bowl caused Kansas and Oklahoma farmer's to migrate to California and Steinbeck has captured that era perfectly.
What was life like then for the middle class? We learned to value things, we learned to entertain ourselves, and we learned thrift. That meant that we took care of our possessions. It meant that we did things as a family. If there was enough money for gas, we took a Sunday drive. We played checkers, dominoes and card games for entertainment. We saved our money for a future indulgence. In the summer a big evening for us was driving to Manitou Springs to fill up jugs with mineral water. If we felt 'flush' we stopped for a root beer float. To today's kids, that would be a dull outing, but to me it was an exciting event.
Most people helped each other and were compassionate. Sadly the other side of the coin were the greedy unprincipled men that had money and used the dire circumstances of others to further their wealth. We had a neighbor who had been gassed during WW I and he had a pension. When the value of the dollar plummeted, his pension remained the same allowing him more money than he needed to survive. I suppose you could call him an entrepreneur, but that would not be my name for him. He haunted the Court House and searched the records for delinquent taxes. Those were usually owed by widows. He then paid the taxes, took over the property and evicted the unfortunate owner. I wish I could say that he was an isolated example, but it is not so. All over the country such men got wealthy on the misfortune of others.
Itinerant preachers were numerous. Many of them became wealthy because the gullible would give them money they could not afford. Evangelical preachers were followed because people were looking for something to hang on to. Aimee Semple McPherson was one such preacher. She was involved in an scandal involving an extramarital affair, but before that happened she became extremely wealthy.
I hope the 'powers that be' can avoid another Depression. For some it is already happening. We need men of wisdom to guide this country so it doesn't fall into the abyss again. We need strong leaders who will put restrictions on the lending institutions so we don't fall down this rabbit hole once more. We need patience and guidance.