Look around you, how many grey and white heads are nearby? If you are lucky, you will have at least one, if you are very lucky you will have multiple to choose from. Why is it so fortunate to have older folk around? Simple, beneath all that gray and white hair is a plethora of knowledge and experience. This is a valuable resource, and one that is dwindling each and every day. Often the biggest feat is to find those who lived through the great depression and still have their mental faculties and are willing to sit down and talk about their lives, that’s the trifecta!
These folk grew up during a time when most things were done by hand, black and white TV was something for the wealthy, that’s if they had electricity. Lighting was often candles and kerosene lanterns. Some lived on farms and had to get up before dawn to take care of farm animals before eating breakfast and heading off to school. These folks grew up in circumstances that most of us can’t even imagine.
They didn’t have cell phones much less smart phones, many didn’t have land line phones either, what they did have was referred to as the grapevine, one neighbor talking to another over the fence or in line at the local grocery or hardware store, news about what was going on in the neighborhood was passed this way. And Heaven forbid you did something wrong while away from home, believe me, it would make it home to your parents, eventually they would find out about it and punishment was coming. People were more polite to each other, children especially, people said please and thank you, they also shared what they had, which in many cases wasn’t much.
Things weren’t disposable, when you bought or made something, you used the heck out of it, you used it up, you wore it out, if it broke, you fixed it and continued using it. If it was still in good shape, you passed it on to another person, these were often considered family heirlooms and were proudly cared for and passed down to the next generation.
Another motto they lived by is “make due or do without”, they were tough, resilient, resourceful and frugal. How many of you remember having a “junk drawer” in the kitchen growing up? This drawer would contain everything your parents couldn’t bear to throw away, if there was any chance it possibly, might be used again or useful for something else…. my parent’s junk drawer contained screws, nails, tools, rubber bands, bread ties… oh let me tell you about the bread ties, there were ones of every possible color, length thickness, and don’t even THINK about going through that drawer and tossing anything in the trash, even though it looked like a mess of unnecessary junk to you, THEY had it memorized down to the last nut, button and rubber band.
Food was very important, it was often scarce, especially meat, if you were lucky (like my dad) you had a milk cow, perhaps you have a few free range chickens for eggs and the occasional (rare) chicken dinner. You made everything from scratch, there was no microwave, no prepackaged convenience foods, your mom had a well worn cookbook with all of her favorite recipes, complete with hand written notes jotted down on the oil stained pages.
So here’s what you do, and seriously consider doing this before it’s too late, get a voice recorder, find someone, or preferably many someone’s who lived through the great depression, sit down with them and talk, do a sort of interview, ask questions like “was it hard for you and your family during the depression?”, “how did you survive?”, “what would you do differently?”… you get the idea, once you express an interest, I believe most will be willing to talk to you. Let them go on as long as they want to, and don’t forget you can always come back another day and ask more questions.
One of the things I tend to do when I meet an oldster for the first time, eventually I will ask them if they grew up during the great depression, that often sparks a grand conversation.
I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what you will learn. Here are some books to help, these are the memories of the folks who lived during the great depression.
Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site
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