Thursday, February 27, 2014

Great Depression Perspectives

I asked my mom about how her family fared in the Great Depression. One family member worked for the CCC but didn't stay long. He eventually left that to work with other family members. Everyone in the family had jobs with meager incomes.  They basically worked hard and worked together to make ends meet. They were definitely difficult times, but I have never heard my grandparents or great aunts and uncles complain. They would simply tell stories of how they worked together to make ends meet.


However there is one Great Depression story which resulted in a family tradition. The story is that my grandmother read in the paper that for New Year's dinner, those who eat pork and sauerkraut would find prosperity the coming year.  (In fact there are many traditional New Year's Day dinners that "guarantee" prosperity for the coming year. I know the South's traditional dinner is black-eyed peas.) Anyway, Grandma served pork and sauerkraut for New Year's Day dinner and everyone in the immediate and extended family had jobs that year.  Today everyone in the family still eats this dinner. I always thought this was the traditional dinner because my mom's family is part French/ part German. Perhaps that is where that tradition came from?  Ultimately though, it is the Lord that provides, not the pork and sauerkraut. However it is a fun story!


We've been reading different autobiographies in school so it's been quite interesting hearing their take on the depression.


Charlie Duke


One famous person we are reading about is astronaut Charlie Duke, who walked on the moon in 1972. In his autobiography, Moonwalker, he writes that he was born in 1935 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Previous to that his parents had been living in South Carolina when the depression hit. His mom's father lost everything in the crash. She had to quit college to look for a job. Meanwhile, Duke's father was also in South Carolina. His dad's father, an insurance salesman, lost most of his business in the crash. Duke's father also ventured to New York City. While there, Duke's parents found jobs, met, and got married. His mom held one job and his dad held two, one by day and one by night.  Duke says, "They enjoyed their time there." (p23) When she found out she was pregnant, they moved south to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Charlie and his twin brother were born. "My mother had her hands full raising two rambunctious boys. She claims we never gave her a minute's trouble, but it was fourteen years before she had another child." (p23)


Norman Schwarzkopf


Another book we are reading is It Doesn't Take a Hero, the autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the troops in the Persian Gulf War.  (My family might laugh, but General Schwarzkopf has always reminded me of my dad, in looks, in speech, and in thought. They don't look exactly the same but I think they look more like brothers than my dad's brothers do! We'll see if I think the same at the end of the book.) Schwarzkopf grew up in the 1930's in New Jersey. His father was a graduate of West Point and served in WWII. Schwarzkopf was expected to also attend West Point and his father's honorary saber was set aside for him at an early age. Schwarzkopf tells numerous stories of all the radio shows they listened to, including those that used his father's voice! Each story is full of drama and leaves the reader at the edge of his seat. Schwarzkopf says, "Up to [WWII] I'd had a wonderful boyhood, filled with dogs, Christmases, birthdays, tree climbing and sled riding, and all kinds of friends. Despite the Depression, we had plenty of food on the table; the most we ever saw of hard times were the tramps who would show up at the back door. Mom would have our maid give them our lunch, but when they'd eaten, they had to leave immediately." (p2)


Chuck Yeager


For yet a different take on the Depression, is Chuck Yeager's autobiography simply titled, Yeager, which recounts the life of the man who was the first to break the sound barrier. Yeager also grew up in West Virginia in the 1930's, extremely poor. He writes, "The Great Depression began when I was eight, but it had no real impact when you were already so low on the income scale." His father was employed. When a neighbor's home was foreclosed, the bank offered to sell the house to the Yeager family. Yeager's father signed a loan and the family moved in to what they thought was luxery:  a two story four bedroom house. Yeager goes on to describe at great length how they ran the farm. Then he writes, "West Virginia still leads the country in unemployment and Lincoln County, where I was raised, remains one of the poorest counties in the state, but I never thought of myself as being poor or deprived in any way. Like most everyone else in town, we managed to scrape by. Kids learned self-sufficiency from their parents and made their own toys and invented their own fun. Life was basic and direct: people said what they meant and meant what they said." (p9) "Mom and Dad taught us by example. Mom worked as hard as any of the pioneer women, from dawn to dark, cooking and mending and cleaning. Dad got home late Friday and left on Sunday; in between he worked like a dog. They never complained. We country people had our own way of life. We didn't sit around worrying and were contented with the little we had. (p9)


How much we have to learn in our era of relative prosperity, to learn to work hard, to not complain, and to be content with that which we have. These are great examples set before us. No wonder these three men did big things later in life.  My family heritage is quite similar on a smaller scale and have always taught me the same principles. I know there are many more stories out there like this too.

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