"My Folks Depression Years"

by Rosalie Browning Merrill
For Pleasant Hill Study Club 1997
Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without, is a dominant theme of those treasured memories of the Great Depression.

Another theme stressed is that of pulling together not only of families but also as communities.

There was no such things as a stranger due to the appearance of salesman & down in the their luck transients (or bums) who often had nothing but the cloths on their backs. Trust was a common reaction to those around you.

Often "one mans" trash was another mans treasure as every of daily life was used, re-used nothing went to waste

Given the state of the economy with so little money in circulation with banks closing the "barter" system came into play. Neighbors helped each other with major tasks as harvesting crops, butchering animals for meat, breaking horses and overhauling machinery.

Eventually, federal goods meant programs such as WPA, CCC, at New Canton, IL, provided some relief in the form of jobs and paychecks.

However, being on relief was unacceptable to most of the population. A series of dry years in the early 1930's was difficult for farmers. Crops yields were very low because of the drought. Vegetable gardens suffered from lack of water. I grew tired of beans, sow belly and tater-onions to this day I hate bread pudding.

If this wasn't enough, my youngest brother was born May 28th, 1931. My birthday was June 6th, my granmother had baked and sent a cake. Large ants enjoyed it.

It was the hottest, longest summer ever if that wasn't bad enough, baby brother, Bill, "squalled", not cried, 24 hours a day. When my mother was involved in house work, I would push baby and bed in the bedroom and shut the door. (didn't get by with that but a couple of times), "I got even"

Feed sacks and flour sacks were valuable, white sacks bleached by boiling water with lye until lettering came out, they were used for sheets, pillow slips, tea towels. Printed sacks were used for dresses, curtains, and quilts. Heavy clothing was cut into blocks and made into comforters. Rags were torn into strips and woven into rugs.

I well remember the sheets, pillows cases, underwear and dresses made from feed sacks.

There were fun times when families would gather to visit, games and much singing. Mrs. Anderson, a family friend, would say, come on roses and play with her son Billy, he played the fiddle and I played the piano.

At times, it would be just the young people together. Mama would play the piano and we would dance on the front porch in the summer and dining room other times. Mama often spoke how many linoleums we wore out.

It has been said the depression lasted into WW II. Did anyone foretell the depression? Certainly noted economist, Roger Babson had predicted it, but was ignored. Nobody would ever have heard of him if the depression had never accured.

Great Depression Stories Shared by Capper's Readers:
Phone disconnected - $3.00 a month. Electricity - .50¢ a month, so back to kerosene lamps.

Corn was .21¢ a bushel and only 15 - 20 bushels an acre yeild. Hamburger, .10¢ a lb, 3 cans of corn, .29¢, 10 lbs, flour was .43¢, Qt of Milk, .10¢s;, Eggs, .19¢ a dozen.

A wedding dress (white satin) $12.00, no money for veil.

Great Northern Beans were ordered from Sears & Roebuck, they were shipped by train in burlap bushel sacks, they were cooked slowly in a large iron pot that fit the opening when a lid was removed from the big old cook stove. Most of the recipes called for lard, cream & butter. We were unaware that they were hazardous to our health.

During the spring & summer, people who had gardens carried water from the struggling wells to the thirsty rows of vegetables and water tanks for cows. If fruit trees and roadside vines and berry bushes produced, we gathered wild plums, wild grapes, elderberries & goose berries.

Chiggers, heat and dust were forgotten when gleaming jars of fruit and shimmering glasses of jellies, jams and preserves, sparkled in pantry shelves.

Telephones were on party lines. Each family had a different set of short and long rings as it's call numbers, some enjoyed evesdropping to hear the news. Home remedies were used such as salt water to gargle, mustard poultices, goose grease with kerosene. There was the famous acifidity bag worn around the neck for croup and sore throat, good in losing playmates.

Back on the farm, Monday was a washday, an all day job. A roaing fire was built under a huge iron kettle in the back yard. The kettle was filled from the cistern of rain water or the outside pump. Homemade lye soap was used.

The clothing was boiled for about ½ hour, an old broom stick was used to punch the clothing as it boiled. Starch was made from a paste of flour and water, boiling water was added to this (lumps)

Country folks were slow to accept oleo margarine, this was sold in a pound block (looked like lard) enclosed, was a dry orange color, this was mixed until it became the color of butter. This took time and skill, often you would have a streak of orange that wasn't blended in.

The "Biffy", better known as the privy, was located about 30 ft. from the back door. The standard size of this privy was large enough to accommodate two holes. This was ok in the spring and summer, but winter time, chamber pots were used.

When I recall these memories, I wonder how my parents and others managed. Now I realize they were special people.

ROSALIE BROWNING MERRILL (6 June 1922 - 21 September 2010)
Contributed to Bill Browning - Her brother