Some day we’ll tell stories about The Great Recession. The sacrifices we made. The trials we endured. The lessons we learned.
The stories will become part of family lore. We’ll recall how we lost half the value of our stocks when the Dow plunged from 14,000 to 6,000 and we had to delay retirement. We’ll tell our grandchildren about the “cash for clunkers” program and foreclosures and the bank bailout. But, our stories will pale when compared to those of “The Greatest Generation,” those Americans who lived through the Great Depression to go on to win World War II and lead us to prosperity.
Their stories are stories of survival. You can read some of them at the Ohio Department of Aging Web site. The department recently uploaded the first installment of its Great Depression Story Project, 313 stories from people all over the state. The average age of participants was 85, so you can see most of these storytellers remember The Depression through the eyes of a child.
Here are a few stories from some local voices:
“Grandma would make an Italian dish called ‘minestra’—made with the cut-up left over bread, beans, ham hocks and dandelion greens. This was a poor man’s meal, but very nourishing. Mom and Grandma would walk to Interlake field to pick the dandelions used in this dish.” Mary Rose DeMaria, 83, Oregon
“Dad showed me how to wind a clean cloth around the tines of a fork, wipe it in the almost-empty lard pail, then grease the skillet.” Margaret B. Edwards, 89, Gibsonburg
“My mother had a treadle Singer sewing machine. She would transform hand-me-down clothes given to us into good, wearable garments…We were given a Billy goat but we didn’t have him very long. He broke through the screen door and chased my mother out of the kitchen. Shortly, Dad traded him for a wheelbarrow.” Ruth Jacquillard, 83, Millbury.
“Just like today, grown children found they couldn’t make it on their own and moved back to their parents’ homes bringing their families too.” Laverne Hillyer Fifer, 92, Northwood.
Another wrote about going to the grocery store to beg for bones for the dog, only to take them home for her mother to make soup. One man recalled schoolmates eating the banana rinds other kids had thrown away. Another man wrote, “For theme paper, I sometimes had to take paper out of the wastebasket and erase to use…Once I had to stay home because we did not have 25 cents for a workbook. I had to try out for the basketball team in stocking feet as I had no tennis shoes…An Uncle’s old suit coat and my turtleneck shirt from an Aunt made up my basic wardrobe, making me look like Ichabod Crane. It was demoralizing and created a severe inferiority complex for me.”
These are some of the personal stories of The Great Depression. The numbers tell the greater story. According to CNNMoney.com, between 1930 and 1933 50 percent of the banks failed and unemployment at the height of The Depression was 25 percent. This compares to less than one percent bank failures and unemployment of 8.5 percent for The Great Recession. The Dow plummeted nearly 90 percent back then compared to 53.8 percent during the midst of the current recession.
While many of us didn’t live through The Great Depression, we learned its lessons passed on to us by our parents or grandparents. If times get tough, I know I can live on the cheap meals of my childhood growing up in the 1950s—plain gravy on bread, gravy with a little hamburger on mashed potatoes and tomato sandwiches. I could darn socks and patch pants. I could do home projects and car maintenance by doing the same thing my father did because he didn’t have the money to hire experts—read a manual and roll up your sleeves. I could trade my labor with family and neighbors.
Some of you are doing some of these things now as we weather this Great Recession. If you’re looking for tips or inspiration visit the Web site listed below. This compilation of stories, each about a paragraph long, is the first of four installments. The department will issue a new collection each month through December.
I’ll leave you with one bit of advice. It comes from Toledoan Edna Hanson, 76. “Our strength came from a deep sense of what was right and what was wrong. To this day, most of us follow those lessons learned in a difficult time of our lives: Help each other. Don’t hurt each other. Share what you have. Pull together. If you follow that advice from another time, your life will be better.”