Back Around the House II: My family’s memories of the Great Depression


Last week one of our grandchildren asked me if I remembered the Great Depression This was a step up from our children who wanted to know what I remembered about the Catacombs in Ancient Rome. The granddaughter’s history class is studying the Great Depression, and the teacher offered bonus points to any student who could get a grandparent to come to class and talk about what it was like back then.

For years I thought my mother was telling people I was a depressing baby. When I studied American history in high school I finally figured out I was a Depression baby.

So, I said I didn’t actually remember the Depression, but since I listened to my parents I had their memories of it. I was all set to go to her history class, but meetings interfered. So her teacher said she could have the bonus points if I wrote about it. So…

My Family’s Memories of the Great Depression

My older brother’s favorite Depression story is about how he supported our whole family by selling copies of the Collier’s Magazine door to door for a nickel a copy. When he did something wrong, my mother grounded him. With blazing eyes he informed her, “Okay, you do that, and I won’t be able to sell the magazine every week, and the whole family will just have to starve!”

As the Depression deepened, my dad lost his job. Every time there was even a hint of a job, he would walk to the place hoping to be hired.

One time a neighbor told him about a job advertised in the newspaper. He left home at 3 a.m. because since he didn’t have money for bus fare he had to walk to the other side of Dayton to apply, and he wanted to be there early. When he arrived, there already were more than 100 men in line to apply for one job.

My dad’s brother was a professional gambler. He got dad a job working for a bookie joint where people could bet on horse races.

It wasn’t legal, but it was all there was. My mom was mortified.

The first day on the job Dad was worried about me because I had pneumonia and I was only three months old. He only had enough money to buy one can of Carnation milk which was the only thing I could have. When one of the men asked him what was wrong, he told him. The man said, “Don’t worry, It’ll work out.”

Early the next morning my mom found a whole case of Carnation milk on the front porch. She was absolutely amazed and grateful. Long after the milk was all gone, a neighbor told her about how a warehouse had been robbed and the police were puzzled because the robbers only took one case of Carnation milk. My dad told his “friend” we didn’t need any more Carnation milk.

Dad finally got a good job driving a city bus in Dayton. The “car barns”, a huge building where they kept the buses, was only a block from our house. Every night when it was time for Daddy to come home, my mom would dress me up and let me walk to the corner to meet him I was only five years old then, but I felt quite grown up.

Meanwhile my brother was moving on to other things. He and his best friend noticed men smoking cigarettes. Back then it was not just politically correct, but a mark of manhood.

He and his best friend didn’t really understand tobacco, but they watched the men roll the tobacco in cigarette papers. The friend got the cigarette papers, and my brother was supposed to get the tobacco. The only thing in our house that looked like tobacco was ground coffee.

The friend’s mother had three older boys, so she added up the missing cigarette papers and the coffee and took my mom to the railroad tracks where they found the boys in an empty box car trying to “smoke”. The coffee. She told my mom to let them go because they were going to be so sick they’d never smoke again. She was right.

I haven’t scratched the surface of my family’s memories of the Great Depression, but I hope it’s enough for some history bonus points for our granddaughter. It was.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate October 23, 2002.

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By Kathleen Floyd

Back Around the House II

Kathleen Floyd is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her column Back Around the House II. She can be reached at kfloyd@woh.rr.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.