- Personal Finance
A 97-year-old : The 2008 economic crisis was not another Great Depression
Someone who lived through THE Depression
I have a new friend. Or, one could say he is an old friend, because he was born in 1915. So he is old by my reckoning, and older than I; but the friendship is relatively new.
Mack has been around. He served in the “Big War,” as those veterans call World War II, and he youthed through the Great Depression. Mack knows that the economy is rough right now and that able-bodied, willing workers struggle with the lack of jobs and all that goes with that. But, he vehemently declares, “this is not like the GREAT DEPRESSION.” One hears the capital letters in his voice.
His Childhood Was Cut Short
Boston shines tenderly in Mack’s heart as his hometown. Born there into a family of four, he enjoyed growing up and playing during the halcyon, giddy turn of the century, before any inkling of stock market crashes or bank failures burdened the brow of our nation. Nevertheless, his family’s path presaged the country’s because his father died when Mack was twelve.
No life insurance, beneficial association fund, or substantial savings existed for such a rainy day. Mack’s mother tried to keep the family going by renting out rooms and running a modest gas station in front of their capacious home. The house was a child’s delight: large, with ten rooms, its grounds occupied half a block. To a child, it felt like a castle. Pear trees bordered the yard on all four sides. These were not ornamentals, such as the modern Bradford pear tree dotting our suburban neighborhoods. These were the complete package – fruit-bearing trees with glorious, fragrant white flowers greeting the world every April. Their beauty fed Mack’s soul and the fruit filled his belly.
One did not talk back or question one’s parents in those days. So, when the pear trees were chopped down, Mack grieved and seethed silently. They had been his playhouses, his friends, his sentinels at night. They made the house a home. We can only make suppositions – that perhaps his mother needed the wood to heat the large dwelling; or that she needed the money from the sale of that wood to feed or clothe her brood. Whatever the reason, it sits bitterly and indefensibly in Mack’s memory.
Circumstances got worse. Bills grew; income did not. In desperation, Mack’s mother made the sort of Sophie’s choice that no mother ever wants to face. She gave Mack ten dollars to put his younger brother on a train to relatives in Connecticut. She took him to a disagreeable and very poor second cousin in Brookline. Then she said goodbye and disappeared. The house no longer theirs, the family dispersed, Mack felt utterly on his own.
Life with the imposed relative did not work for Mack. Without fuss or warning, he ran away. With a penknife and ratty coat, Mack made his way to the Boston Common.
Survivor and Thriver
With the right attitude, a fourteen-year-old boy finds plentiful beds in the Boston Common. The barrel of a cannon monument provides protection from snow and rain. Many slept on and under the wooden benches. Bushes in leaf give shelter and the foot of a garden bridge or the back wall of a Swan Boat shed were choice spots. Everyone else had troubles of his own – no one stopped to delve into the particulars of a dirty little ragamuffin seen frequently in the park. Or, a gang of ragamuffins, because Mack found he had similarly situated peers. Together, they formed their own Fagan’s gang, without the adult Fagan. Yes, Mack admits, “we rolled drunks.” They also worked together distracting vendors so that they could steal food.
It was 1929. This was an era when children left school to go to work. There was no mandatory public school attendance. No child labor laws prevented eight-year-olds from supporting the family. Survival was what it was all about, whatever it took. Mack lived in the Boston Common for two entire years. Then he finally found work which provided meager room and board.
The Great Depression
We Cannot Begin to Imagine It
So, if hard circumstances tempt us to think we are undergoing a new economic depression, think again. Are you sleeping under a bridge at a riverbank? Are you wearing your one and only pair of shoes? Has the permanent dirt on your body become so thick that it is an effective sunblock? Must you steal to eat? If you have computer access to be reading this hub article, I am guessing not. Things may be rough; they be different and challenging but, they are not approaching the GREAT DEPRESSION.
Photo and text copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan