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A Glimpse From The Depression
The difference between a recession and a depression is about looking to save money (recession) and looking to survive (depression).
I have always loved listening to the stories about my grandparents during the depression. My grandparents never told them; they never talked about those rough times. My parents never told them; my parents were both youngest, late in life children and born after the depression—baby boomers. The stories were always from my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents friends—everyone who was there to see things first hand. It always amazes me the strength they exhibited. It served them well later in life.
My paternal grandfather always had the most amazing garden when I was growing up. There were rows of corn, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon, potatoes, and a few other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. The yard was filled with trees. Not any trees though, apple trees. Every fall when they’d come to visit they would bring wooden barrels filled with green apples and more wooden barrels filled with red apples. Nothing ever went to waste; all things were used. The garden was cared for lovingly. My grandfather would also hunt wild game—squirrel, rabbit, birds. He was an excellent shot. Whenever anyone would comment, he’d simply say when he learned to shoot, bullets counted.
That might not seem like much to most, but it was the only way they ate. There were no trips to the grocery store. Living in the rural parts of Michigan, there wasn’t even a bread line to join. No, my grandparents were left their own devices. They grew their own food. They ate what they had and shared with others in need. They took what was left and replanted, or used as compost. Were there was a need they found a way to fill it.
I’ve come to learn that my maternal grandmother is one of the most amazing women ever. And not only was I privileged to have known her, I’m related! I hope every day to be half the person she was. She may not have fought for civil rights, but she showed the most amazing strength and preservation.
They couldn’t afford clothes, but it wasn’t just my grandparents—they had four children. So my grandmother scrapped up enough money to buy some material. She then made each child an outfit and a pair of pajamas. Every night, she put the kids in their pajamas (not much more than a long shirt) and washed their clothes and underwear. She said being poor was no excuse for being dirty. Every hole was mended and every tear fixed. This didn’t just apply to their selves.
During the height of the depression, my grandparents’ house burnt down to the ground. There was no insurance. There was no option of receiving help from anyone else. Almost everyone they knew was suffering. My grandmother didn’t cry and ask “why me?” She didn’t go begging for help from those who may have been able to help. No, not my grandmother. She dusted the kids off and put them to work cleaning out the chicken coop. They swept, they dusted, and they washed. That night and for several more months they lived in the chicken coop until there was enough money to rebuild the house; which they did themselves. The jokes were that she never allowed for a dirty chicken coop again; would even make curtains for the chicken coop.
Where was my grandfather during this time? Working. Jobs were scarce and they didn’t pay much, sometimes only food, but my grandfather was working. Every day he got up and went to find a job—any job. If he didn’t know how to do something, he learned it. He adapted at every twist and turn. He learned skills that many didn’t have. These were the things that allowed him after the depression to propel himself upwards and become quite successful.
There are more stories, but these were always my favorite. They took what they experienced during the depression and held onto it as lessons learned. They never felt self-pity. They never asked for someone to help them. They picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and moved forward. They held themselves to a high standard, but always remained compassionate towards others as long as they were trying.