Not too long ago, I had the chance to sit down and talk
with my grandmother
and ask her about what it was like
during The Great Depression
. What she told me is
something I would like to share.
My grandmother was in her late teens when The
Great Depression hit. To add fuel to the fire, my
great grandparents were anything but rich and had 5
kids to feed. They were
a farming family from Michigan. Varying factors of
weather and the depressed economy caused my great
grandfather to give up the farm and take the family
west to California in search of work. In 1930, there
were no interstate highways. The going was tough.
They had an old 1920's farming truck with wood planks
as sides in the back. "We loaded it with
the few things we had and headed west", my
grandmother said showing me a picture of her and her
family wearing worn and ripped clothing standing in front
of the truck on a remote dusty road.
"It took us over a month of constant travel to go from
Michigan to California. We were happy if the truck
would only have 3 flat tires in one day. There was one
day we had 17 flats", she said chuckling. "The
roads were terrible. They were hard, dry dirt with wheel ruts. Sometimes you would get lucky and the road would be
smooth enough to go 30 MPH".
"When we got to California, we found that there were
no jobs at all. There was no work and lots of men looking
for work. Dad was able to get odd jobs with
some farms or local businesses, but nothing constant and
pay was really poor. We barely had enough
money to eat. Most of our meals were boiled cabage and
some bread. Sometimes dad would be able bring home some
fresh produce as part of his pay. It was really special
when he would bring home sweet corn." she said kind of
in a daze appearing to be thinking about those times.
Asking her about Christmas during that time was a
real eye opener for me. "Each of the kids got an orange
and one piece of candy.", she explained, "Oranges were very
exclusive back then. They were something that you could
only get during the summer, and were quite expensive. So,
it was very special to have them at Christmas". I asked about the piece of candy. "I thought the candy was the most
beautiful thing. It was covered with a sparkling coating
of sugar that would just glisten in the light. I would lay
in my bed and hold it up in the sunlight to watch the
sparkles", she said as she mimicked holding a small
object up to the light.
The fact that
somebody would find such beauty in an object that most of
us would never think twice about, left quite an impression
on me. It made me think about what we have today and what
life must have been like then. I spent the remaining
time with her looking over the pictures that she had of
that time. She showed me pictures of the places that she
and her family had lived. They were old, run down 1
bedroom houses with no plumming. Basically buildings that look like they were left over from the 1849 California
gold rush. Nobody in any of the pictures had much of
anything in the way of possessions. Most of the younger
children didn't have shoes. A lot of the pictures almost looked like the slums that you see in 3rd world countries.
I can't imagine what it was like. I grew up in a
middle class family and I know I didn't have a whole
lot compared to some of my friends, but when I look at
what my grandmother had gone through, I just shake my
head in awe.