Grandmas’ Takes on The Great Depression

GrandmaK Recently my family was over for a little get-together, and I sat at the dinner table with my two grandmas, both are in their nineties. The conversation turned to the current economy, and the possibility that we’re entering (or already in) something akin to the Great Depression. I asked them both what their memories were of that time. They were in their teens when it started, and getting married and starting families when times finally were improved.

My maternal Grandma grew up on a North Dakota homestead farm, and my paternal grandma lived in Chicago, and I believe her father worked in the business of design and manufacture of air conditioning and refrigeration. So, one could expect that both incomes were hit hard by the economic downturn of the day; the Midwest had the Dust Bowl droughts, and I’m sure refrigeration was treated as an unaffordable luxury by most in that day.GrandmaO

But, their memories of the time were both consistent- that there was no sudden or drastic change for their families, but rather a gradual and continuous tightening-of-the-belt to adjust to the times. They agreed that the changes were barely noticeable, that they just got used to living with less, and making do with what they had. They felt that they were largely unaware that they were living through a severe economic depression. I gathered that in retrospect, with their ninety-something age perspective, that the whole thing really was “no biggie” in the grand scheme of things-just a short period of lean living in their long and generally prosperous lives.

How interesting- I wonder if the biggest thing that has changed is the media? That we are much more acutely aware that we are experiencing a severe economic crisis, which makes it more distressing to continually reflect on what we feel we are missing out on, or what we have to give up, and whether things will get worse?

When I think of their descriptions of their lives then- simple is the word that comes to mind. Especially life on the farm- they managed with lantern light, growing most of their own food, doing almost everything by hand and from scratch, and working very hard. Leisure activities were modest things like playing cards, having big family dinners, or potlucks and square dancing get-togethers with the neighbors. And yet their quality of life was still high, they both seem to remember those times fondly.

Of course not everyone survived the Depression with this much ease, so I don’t meant to oversimplify history. But I still find their perspective somewhat grounding, to realize that even if I had to give up a large portion of my luxuries and conveniences, that my life would probably still be satisfying and happy.

4 thoughts on “Grandmas’ Takes on The Great Depression

  1. jomegat says:

    I’m almost finished reading Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time” which is a book about the Dustbowl. Life was pretty hard on the high plains. In the 20’s when wheat was booming, a person could become wealthy by “hitting a crop.” One good year and all the equipment was paid for, as was the house and a new piano. Tens of thousands moved to TX, OK, and CO to try to cash in. They claimed a homestead, plowed up the buffalo grass, and planted wheat. When the stock market crashed, the price if wheat plummeted too. It cost more to plant a crop than that crop could possibly be sold for, so people planted nothing. With the buffalo grass gone and no wheat, there was nothing to hold down the dirt. All of this was compounded by the drought. Fruit trees died. Gardens were scorched. People canned tumbleweed. Children died from dust pneumonia. I don’t think our current crisis really compares.

  2. workingcollies says:

    I agree, though I have wondered whether the weather extremes we’ve been having, combined with the severe economy, could reproduce the conditions of the Great Depression in the near future. Or, a flu pandemic that kills many and causes the rest to hide in their homes, further stalling commerce? A combination of those is a frightening thought.

    I think the book you are reading is the picture of the Depression that we all have from our school days, and definitely many people suffered greatly. I just found it interesting to hear these two ladies express a different experience, memory and perception of the period than what’s in schoolbooks. That a lot of people were OK, and somewhat oblivious to the hard times they were surviving.

    Hopefully, we’ll turn out of this soon, the weather will settle down, and things will be fine. But one does wonder…

  3. Jo says:

    I think it is so great that you could sit down with your grandmas and talk about their past experiences. What a fun time!

  4. Sue Edminster says:

    What a treat for you to have that conversation with your grandmas! Have you considered doing a more in-depth interview with them and writing it up? I belong to the Geneabloggers group and am constantly amazed at the information and family stories that are posted. Much more interesting than fiction.

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