by Brenda Looney

Annie is my Mother and was born in 1916. When I asked her to tell me about the great depression, she quickly responded that her whole life was a depression as she was always poor. Growing up in a family with 8 children and not enough to eat or clothes to wear, was hard. She left home in 1933, at age 17, to get married. She had dropped out of high school along with 2-4 million other teens. This was at the peak of the great depression. The stock market crash of 1929 was only the beginning. On the promise of a "New Deal" for the "forgotten man" Franklin Delano Roosevelt gained the presidency in a landslide victory in 1933.....the following year Annie was having her first child. Roosevelt was somewhat of a hero to Annie and her first child was named Ralph Delano and her second child named William Franklin. The doctor came to the house to deliver my brother and his fee was \\$30. Daddy gave him $5 and never paid the rest of the bill. He didn't have the money. There just wasn't any money circulating then. The people without land or livestock of their own, went out to work for other people and took whatever they could get, which was whatever people had to pay them. Sometimes it was a jug of milk, a basket of carrots or potatoes, some flour or sugar....that is the way they got by. Daddy worked for as little as $12 a week (about .30 an hour) and he went to wherever there was work, so they moved around a lot.

Annie recalls once a stranger showed up at her door wanting work. When she told him she didn't have any money he said he'd work for some sugar. She said "OK" and he worked all afternoon cutting down weeds around the house and gladly walked away with a small bag of sugar. Food was hard to come by. Store bought bread was only a nickel a loaf, but they didn't have a nickel so neighbors and friends passed around yeast starts and made their own bread, or they made baking powder biscuits or hot cakes.

The burden of the depression often fell on the women. Annie found herself responsible for stretching meager budgets by preparing inexpensive meals and patching old clothing. Clothes were often made out of feed sacks and children shared clothes and hand-me-downs were welcome. Shoes were hard to come by and were patched when worn. "Making do" became a slogan of the period. Hoover soup was often on the menu. There are many variations of this recipe but for Annie it was flour, water, lard and sometimes a can of mackerel added. Biscuits were made daily and were a mainstay along with beans in their diets. A poor family with many children would show up at Annie's door asking for left over biscuits and some were always saved to pass along. The biscuits were so hard you could hear the children crunching hungrily into them. Even though people were dirt poor they were generous with what they had to share. Many women went to work to help supplement the family's income. Luckily, Annie had a knack for doing hair and although not formally trained, many men and women would come to her home for haircuts and styling. They gave Annie whatever they could afford, but the average donation was fifteen cents.

The depression greatly reduced the amount of money available for recreation and entertainment. There was an increase in games and sports among family groups and friends. Annie and her family would gather around the radio which was the favorite form of daily entertainment during the depression. They listened to comedy, mystery shows, music, sports and news. Many friends got together to play cards and visit. Movies were popular also. They were the great means of escape, providing release from the pressures of the depression by transporting people to a make-believe world of beauty, mystery, or excitement. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers thrilled many audiences. Shirley Temple charmed the public and Annie named her first daughter after her in 1941. The price to go see a movie was only a dime but often there wasn't a dime to be spared. You could buy a nickel bag of popcorn, and even win prizes given away by the theater. The popular music of the decade was swing, and the big bands were Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Haffy James. The leading popular singer was Bing Crosby. Comic strips existed before the thirties, but they became standard newspaper features as well as a source of comic books during the decade. Dick Tracy began his war on crime in 1931 and was assisted by Superman after 1938. Tarzan began to swing through cartoon jungles in 1929 and Buck Rogers began the exploration of space in 1930.

As the depression grew worse, more and more people lost their jobs or had their wages reduced. Many were unable to continue credit payments on homes, automobiles, and other possessions, and lost them. Annie said that she had bought on credit a little red wagon and tricycle for her son and when there was no money to make the payments, the repo man from Sears came to the house to take them back. Annie was beside herself and couldn't stand for her child's only toys to be taken away. She had no phone, but ran to a neighbor who had one and called my father and begged him to come up with the money. My dad was owed money for a job he had done and begged the man to pay him, which he did, and Annie was able to pay the repo man and keep the toys.

Families doubled up in houses and apartments. For a while Annie and her husband lived with his parents. Around the country, the homeless built settlements of cardboard and tarpaper shacks, called "Hoovervilles" in sardonic reference to President Hoover. People slept under "Hoover blankets"--old newspapers--in the out-of-doors. Annie remembers the "Hooverall" or "Hoover Apron," which was a kind of wrap-around house dress that was handed out by city relief agencies to families of the unemployed. Soup kitchens were called "Hoover Cafes." Thousands of people traveled the country by foot and boxcar seeking food and work. Soup kitchens and soup lines were set up throughout the nation. Vacant lots became garden plots for the destitute, and hot lunches were made available to school children. The Red Cross also became active in distributing necessities.....but there was so much need and limited resources to fulfill it.

When Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, the American economic system seemed to be on the verge of collapse. Roosevelt assured the nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." A severe banking crisis developed. Banks could not collect their loans or meet the demands of their depositors for withdrawals, and runs occurred on many banks. Farmers armed with guns and pitchforks marched on the local banks to prevent foreclosures. In March, 1933, Roosevelt closed all the banks. Millions of people lost all of their savings. Annie remembers a man who lost his total life savings of \\$250. He was in such a state of shock that he put a gun to his head and blew his brains out. In 1931 alone there were over 21,000 suicides reported. People, laborers, machinists, miners, small businessmen and factory workers who had always paid their bills on time and never expected to be beholden to anyone....suddenly found themselves destitute. Some of them never got over it.

In his first hundred days in office, President Roosevelt initiated, and Congress approved, an unprecedented number of relief bills, injecting much needed currency into the nation's economy. as one out of four Americans could not find jobs, the federal government stepped in to become the employer of last resort. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), an ambitious New Deal program, put 8,500,000 jobless to work, mostly on projects that required manual labor. With Uncle Sam meeting the payroll, countless bridges, highways and parks were constructed or repaired. Daddy worked on many of these projects. Men were given room and board and a dollar a day to work. These government projects are what saved many people. Roosevelt was held in high esteem and occupied the presidency for the following 12 years. He held the office of President through two major crises, the Great Depression and World War II. The economic crisis was not solved until World War II began and triggered huge needs for industrial and agricultural productivity.

A few people profited from the Depression. If you had any money and could buy up all the foreclosed properties, you could gain wealth and assets. A new home could be bought for less than \\$3,000. A man's suit cost about $10, a shirt less than 50 cents, and a pair of shoes about $4. Milk was 10 cents a quart, a pound of steak only 29 cents. These facts are not easily forgotten and every life was touched in some way.

People date their lives around the Depression. Annie will say such and such happened before or after the Depression. That decade of the 30's seems to stand out more than any other in her life. It was a time when families came together and did what they could to survive. For many today, the Great Depression is something that happened long before they were born, perhaps before their parents were born and something only to be found in history books. I think the recollections of people like Annie are important to know, because historians find it difficult to include in their accounts the utter hopelessness of the ordinary, everyday people who suffered through this devastating period in our nation's life.

Lessons of hard times are not easily forgotten. Annie remembers well being hungry and not having enough of anything. Because she went through not only a poor childhood, but the Depression in her adulthood, she is always 'tight' with her money and often deprives herself of things she really can afford, because she is afraid she won't have enough money to last her the rest of her life. She never wants to be hungry again, so her cupboards and pantry are full and she has a hard time throwing away anything. Just a couple weeks ago I was in her kitchen hunting a dish cloth and all I could find was a real worn 'rag' and I gave her a lecture on why she should buy herself some new dish cloths. She just smiled at me and said, "Someday I will."

I am too young to remember the depression, but I'm glad I have Annie's story to remember and to pass on to my son and someday his children. I want them to know all about the anguish and hardship, and how strong my parents were to be one of the survivors of The Great Depression.

I simply hope and pray it will never happen again, but if we do not remember and learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it.


Memories of an Abundant Life  * Family Ties  *  Flowers & Friends
Grandpas' Picture   *  In Rememberance   *  Letter to My Father
The Time of My Life   *  My Father   *   To My Husband
Sweetheart Overseas   *  My Dove   *   My Favorite Places
My Garden in Bloom   *  My Animal Children   *  No More
                               New Pages !!!
Christmas Gift  * Pumpkin  * Empty Nest  * Beyond Tears  * The Red Rose  * Annie's Story of Great Depression  *
Garden Pictures  * Coming Into Manhood  * I Love How You Love Me  *
Time To Give Thanks  * Autumn Memories  *  Sunset  *My First Mothers' Day  *
The Gift   *  Neighbors  *   Seasons of Life

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