Love Poems and Sad Stories - Rags, Bottles and Paper - The Great Depression

The Great Depression

Soup Kitchen
Soup Kitchen
Soup Lines
Soup Lines
Waiting for Relief
Waiting for Relief

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When he was only eight years old, his father and older brother both died of diptheria. That left him and his mother to run the farm and care for his two younger brothers until his mother was able to re-marry. He had to grow up quickly as he was now The Man of the House.

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But he was a survivor. He would do whatever it takes now to feed his wife and children. Even The Great Depression could not break his spirit. They would survive even if he had to gather rags, bottles and paper.

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Rags, Bottles and Paper

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It was just starting to get light as he pulled the small red wagon down the sidewalk. He knew that if he didn’t get there early, all of the best garbage would be picked over. He was pleased that he had found the discarded child’s wagon in the trash. It would make it much easier to collect the rags, bottles and paper as he went through the rich people’s garbage.

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The nearest neighborhood, where people were likely to dump usable items, was over thirty blocks away, and it took him more than an hour pulling the wagon behind him. He would go from house to house and carefully sift through their garbage. Mostly, he found discarded rags and bottles and of course paper. Sometimes he found small scraps of metal, and they would be even more valuable when he took them to the junk dealer at the end of the day.

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He started his pilgrimage as soon as it got light each morning, and finished around 4:00 PM so he would have time to sell his findings before he began the long walk home. There was no time to stop for lunch. Besides, he didn't have anything to eat. If he were lucky, he would make enough money to stop on the way home and buy something for supper.

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It was true that the county provided them with some flour, potatoes and powdered milk, sometimes even a head of cabbage and a pound of lard, but there was never enough, and his wife and children looked forward to a little variety. If he had a good day, he might even be able to buy a small ring of bologna.

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As he walked, he recalled how it all started. When he and his wife got married, he was still working. The Stock Market had crashed in 1929, but the Great Depression had barely started. In fact, no one even new it was going to be a depression. Things quickly got worse, and then one day, the boss called everyone together. "How much are you making now?"he asked. "Sixty five cents an hour" someone called out. "Starting tomorrow you will be earning twenty seven cents an hour. Any questions?"

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One worker raised his hand and the boss replied "You’re fired. Any more questions?" At the time he was angry, but he kept quiet. A few months later, when the company closed down completely, he wished that he were still making twenty-seven cents an hour. He immediately began looking for another job, but everyone else was looking too. Now, he was reduced to collecting trash seven days a week so that he and his family could survive.

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His thoughts drifted back to the potato farm in Plover where he had been raised after his mother remarried. When he was just seven years old, his father and his older brother both died of diphtheria. He and his mother struggled to keep their farm going, but it was too much for them besides taking care of the two younger children. She had no choice but to remarry and his stepfather treated him almost as well as his own children.

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The work was hard, but they always had enough food to eat. This was especially true at harvest time, when the farmers traveled from one farm to the next harvesting the crops. While the men worked in the fields, the women would be busy all day preparing a feast for supper. Meat would be roasted and various pies and bread would be baked and everyone gathered around the tables and stuffed themselves.

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If only somehow he could get back to that area and buy a piece of land, at least they would never go hungry. He would plant a garden and raise some chickens and there would always be something to eat.

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He realized that he was almost home. It would be a relief to finally get his shoes off and rest his feet. The constant walking had taken a toll on his arches. Even though he had fashioned supports for his arches and nailed them to the bottom of his shoes, his feet got flatter each day. Each morning, his feet were swollen, and he dreaded having to put his shoes back on.

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He wished that he could rest his feet for just one day, but he couldn’t even take Sunday off. While it was true that the junk dealers were closed on Sunday, someone else would pick through the garbage if he didn't get there first.

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Early the next morning, he struggled to put his shoes on and started pulling the wagon back toward the lakefront where the wealthy people lived. At least it wasn't raining.

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The Depression continues. They manage to have enough to eat, but they have no money for clothing. It is winter and there daughter has to stay home from school because she doesn't have a coat to wear. The details of what happens next are given in:

The Winter Coat

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The Great Depression

Stories from the Great Depression

Milwaukee, Wisconsin where this story takes place

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Comments 3 comments

klarawieck 4 years ago

It's interesting how we tend to complain about life nowadays. Looking back at what our ancestors had to go through, we realize that our troubles are nothing compared to what they had to face. This is an interesting story. I'll continue reading. Thanks.


Madge 23 months ago

Shiver me timbers, them's some great inmnrfatioo.


Rovsan 23 months ago

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