Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Three Stories About My Grandparents and the Depression

Suggested by the 20+ pounds of apples I picked with the kids this weekend, and...well, you know.

1) Once my brother had a school assignment to interview a family member about her experience of the Depression. So my mother had her mother--our only remaining grandparent at the time--over for dinner. At first she said she couldn't remember anything, but then she came up with this story: My grandmother was a first grade teacher. Every morning she and the other teachers would go to school early, and farmers would bring apples they hadn't been able to sell. The teachers cooked up huge batches of applesauce, and then if any children came to school without lunch, they had applesauce to feed them.

2) In August of 1929 my grandmother decided to take all of her savings out of the bank and go on a vacation out West. She can't have had much savings, because I think she was twenty years old and had only been teaching for a year or two; but she was awfully glad she had done it when October came and the bank failed. She never really believed in the FDIC and always had her money in a whole bunch of banks for the rest of her life. Also, whenever one of her banks had a promotion in which they gave something away for opening a new account, she would go and convince them to give her one of the things because she had an existing account. I believe the clock radio on R.'s nightstand was the fruit of one of those expeditions.

3) My grandfather (my father's father) arrived on these shores from Northern Ireland at the beginning of the Depression. Among other cliches, he actually sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door; but he was never really in danger of starving because he was living with his cousin, a very successful radio comedian. Something to keep in mind: one good thing to be in troubled economic times is funny. People need laughs just as much as applesauce, and way more than vacuum cleaners.

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