April 05, 2011

Learning from History

I love to read about certain events in history and in the past few years I have been reading and watching dvd’s about the Great Depression. I’m curious about the causes of the Great Depression and mainly I want to know what it was like to live through that desperate time.

My father was born in 1917 and he used to tell me what it was like during that time.  My mom was born in 1930 and remembers some of it. The difference is that my father was raised in a single parent household and they were poor. Many times he and his siblings went to bed hungry. My mom grew up in the country on a farm that supplied their produce, meat and milk and her father supplemented the farm income by teaching school.

My mom never went to bed hungry and throughout the Depression they were able to survive off of the food they raised and sold. How did it affect them? My mom loves to spend money and when my dad was alive he saved as much as he could to the point that when he died we found buckets of money hidden around the house.

In my lifetime, I have never known what hopeless feels like.  I think if you look at the picture at the top of this post, you will see what hopeless looks like.  During the Great Depression there were people stumbling through the years without hope and living in desperation.

We know of grandparents or great grandparents that lived through the Depression and you see how it affected them for the rest of their lives. They continued to save cardboard, string, rubber bands and they also continued to respect money and save it. These individuals saw the hard times and they never wanted to go through it again.

If you are interested in knowing personal stories of those who lived through the Great Depression, I recommend the following books: Hard Times by Studs Terkel  and The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan.  Hard Times is an oral history of the Great Depression. It is filled with stories of people Mr. Terkel interviewed. One story tells of a man going out to pick dandelions as his family hadn’t had anything to eat in a couple of days.  The book The Worst Hard Times is about those who survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

Of course if you enjoy movies you should definitely watch The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda and another movie that I enjoyed was Bound for Glory based on the life of folk singer Woody Guthrie.

I have a couple of cookbooks filled with recipes from that time period. How about some “Dandelions in Ham Gravy” or “Bologna Gravy” for supper tonight? One child remembered her mother having to feed 11 people with the only meat being 4 or 5 hotdogs. The woman would cut up about two quarts each of yellow snap beans and potatoes. Then she would slice the hotdogs very thin and would cook everything together and then add a big pat of butter. Talk about being creative in cooking.

I’m sure many of you have heard about Great Depression Cooking with Clara. Clara takes us through several recipes of what they ate during the Depression. It is extremely interesting and she now has her own cookbook. You can view many of these episodes on You Tube at this link.   Here is my favorite episode:

I know that things have been better for families during the Great Recession due to unemployment pay and food stamps to name a few. These were not available during the Great Depression. Don’t get me wrong, I know of people who have been through some hard times in the past few years, but I truly believe it was worse back in the 1930’s.  There was more fear then and rightly so.

What stories will we tell our grandchildren when they ask us what it was like to live through the Great Recession? Or how has hard economic times affected your spending now and in the future? For me it has driven home that no job is secure and that it is up to each of us to prepare for any possible hard times in the future. No one is going to force you to save, but you must find the fortitude to cut back, live on less and save for that rainy day.

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