- Posted October 9, 2008 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The Great Depression
The Depression Bride
My grandparents, Lester and Ida, were married in May of 1936. My grandfather never spoke much of the Great Depression, but my grandmother's tongue was loosened as the passing decades and Alzheimer's disease removed the horrors of those years. Although she's gone, her stories live on in my heart.
As a child who lived with her divorced mother, Ida learned early to support herself. She worked as a clerk at a store in Merryville, Louisiana, for a majority of the 1930's, until she married Lester. She remembered vividly the barrels of flour, the bolts of cloth, and the hunger in the faces of people as they begged for store credit. The store must have been at least marginally successful, because my grandmother was able to purchase, a piece at a time, a complete 6-person setting of Gorham Chantilly silverware for her trousseau, linens, and even a Lane cedar chest to house her treasures.
When she married, Ida was given a home courtesy of a member of her mother's family. However, Lester lived in Waxia, Louisiana, and his main means of support was working on his family's working farm. The solution was quite simple in those days...They dismantled the house, carted it right on over to Waxia, and rebuilt it there! Later on, Ida fattened a calf and sold it so they could get the bricks to build a fireplace & chimney in the living room. To supplement their diets and to provide canning opportunities, the planted persimmon, pecan, pear and kumquat trees around their home.
While newlyweds normally revel in their union, Lester and Ida had no idle time. The farm had cattle, horses, sheep, poultry & swine which needed tending. Pastureland provided graze for the animals, and the farmland provided a way to grow both feed grains and produce for canning. The busy life on the farm provided my grandparents with enough to sustain themselves, plus a little left over to purchase luxuries such as coffee, bolt cloth & sewing sundries, gasoline for the rinky-dink Model T, and shoes. To earn extra money, she and her mother would sometimes get together and make woven cane seats for chairs, or corn shuck or palmetto dolls or place mats to sell at area stores and fairs. (There is an oral history recording of my grandmother recounting how she made those things, and it is the only recording I have of her sweet voice.)
Ida was a typical child of her time. She was an accomplished seamstress, and sewed hers and Lester's clothing (She often twittered proudly as she recounted the many who asked where she purchased her creations!). She grew, harvested and canned vegetables and fruits, and made wines from native elderberries, pears and an indigenous wild muscadine, or grape, which grew thickly in the woods. She was no stranger to the butchering process, and could quickly dispatch and process farm animals & poultry for meat. My grandfather would hunt in the woods and bring home ducks, squirrel, deer or the occasional wild hog, and my grandmother would do the butchering once the skinning and evisceration were complete. In a time when most of the nation was going hungry, these simple country folks were uniquely equipped to fend for themselves. It was a uniquely disgusting thing, however, to see my grandfather take a stewed, skinned squirrel's head, smack the skull's dome with a heavy silver tablespoon, and dine on the brains. <shudder>
God and community were important elements of family life, even when times got tough. There was a tiny church where my grandparents were wed right down the road from the farm, and it was there that a lot of socializing was done. Thus, when there were opportunities to help out those less fortunate, my grandmother (as well as the rest of her family) contributed however they could. Although there was a lot of food donations done, my grandmother was well-known for her skill in taking myriad ingredients and concocting a delicous soup. She used this skill often when working at a Depression-era soup kitchen at the depot in Palmetto, Louisiana. There, again, she saw many hungry faces and heard the stories of those less fortunate. She knew, with certainty, that she was blessed.
Like many who experienced the Depression, my grandmother survived to see better, more prosperous times. Even in the midst of affluence, she became what we today call a packrat. She never threw away clothing or cloth remnants, even when it was decades old. Her kitchen drawers were filled with scraps of foil, washed zippered storage bags, and used bread ties. When she passed, we stared in awe at the 1950's era fur stole, at the lace remnants of my mother's wedding dress from 1964, and the 1930's Victrola with the heavy records still in their original books. Her pantries were still filled with canned goods, and amongst her personal records were papers on quarterhorses which were long dead, and bank statements dating to the 1940's. In her world, nothing ever ceased to have purpose.
She died in 2007 at the age of 95.