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Depression Survivors See Familiar Signs

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  • Depression Survivors See Familiar Signs

    The latest entertainment news in Hyannis, MA from Cape Cod Times. Follow movies, music, theater, books, dance, visual arts and more.

    Depression survivors see familiar signs
    By Doug Fraser
    [email protected]
    February 16, 2009

    Doris Strangford, 103, worries about an America that believes that if you want something, you should buy it, even if you can't afford it.

    "It's easy to give someone a piece of cardboard, but much harder when you have to haul out the cash," she said.

    Like an asteroid slamming into the Earth, the Great Depression scarred an entire generation, indelibly etching fiscal caution and frugality, with the intensity of a religion, into their lives. The stock market's meteoric climb and fall, the dramatic drop in property values, bank and business failures, and rising unemployment all seem eerily familiar to those who lived through the 1930s.

    Though most experts agree the current recession is a far cry from the Great Depression, some of those who lived through those years worry that the hard lessons learned by their generation are about to be visited on the current one.

    Strangford was 24 and newly married when the stock market collapse of 1929 signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

    "My husband lost his job. He was a stained-glass artist and that was a luxury, and luxuries were gone," the 103-year-old Harwich Port resident recalled. The Connick Studio in Boston was more like an ancient medieval artisans guild creating large pieces for cathedrals and universities around the world.

    But that fairyland of light and color came crashing down with the stock market collapse.

    All of their friends, most of whom worked at Connick's, were out on the street, looking for any work they could find. With safety net programs like unemployment insurance still decades off in the future, no work meant no money coming in, no way to pay rent or mortgage or to put food on the table.

    "They worked at anything they could get," Strangford said.

    Helen Berger, 89, of South Orleans remembered the lines of men, women and families with children lined up on sidewalks in her hometown of Oakland, Calif., to get a bowl of soup from kettles set up on street corners.

    Her father held a municipal job and, at first, the Depression didn't hit them as hard. But when she was 12, her parents divorced and suddenly money was tough to come by.

    "She didn't have any skills to go to work," Berger said of her mother. "She cleaned beauty parlors and barber shops, after hours. A bunch of jobs like that."

    Her grandfather raised some animals for meat and had a big vegetable garden, but sometimes dinner was a free soup bone from the butcher boiled with a small bundle of "soup vegetables" for 10 cents from the grocer.

    It took the onset of World War II to pull her city out of the decadelong Depression, as the government ramped up shipbuilding, a major industry in Oakland.

    Berger is worried that everyone, from politicians on down to the average citizen, is not taking the current economic crisis seriously enough.

    "I think they are a little too complacent. This trillion is not going to solve the problem. (The economic crisis) is going to be with us for a long time," she said.

    Cities seemed to have a harder time adjusting to the Depression than rural areas like Cape Cod.

    "Anyone with any ambition could survive. It was not like the cities," said Reginald Nickerson, an 11th-generation native Cape Codder from Chatham, who was only 3 when the stock market collapsed in 1929. Cape Cod had natural resources, fishing, farming and hunting, as well as a tourist trade that continued through the war.

    "People who had homes here continued to come. I remember them complaining that they were down to their last few thousand dollars," Nickerson said. And the military beefed up its presence on Cape bases, which also pumped dollars into the economy.

    After her mother died, June Lemos' father shipped her and her sisters from their home in Boston to live with a widow in Eastham. He sent whatever money he could make as a janitor to the Cape to help with their upkeep. She said she was just happy to be living.

    "The fact that someone was taking care of me, I had a roof over my head and clothing on my back. ... I wasn't too concerned. I did miss my parents, but I was along for the ride," said Lemos, 86, of Orleans.

    To those from the Depression era, the excesses and wastefulness of our consumer-driven, disposable-income society is the ultimate sin.

    "It almost seemed sacrilegious to have to throw perfectly good things away," Strangford said. "You were so scared you wouldn't have anything left if you were wasteful."

    Someone once asked Fred Crowell's father about living through the Depression.

    "What Depression?" his father shot back. "We're always in a depression."

    "He didn't have money his whole life, so that it didn't bother him to have to cut back," Crowell said. His father's Harwich home was built from signs he found in the dump and other places. It's still standing.

    That same frugality was passed on to his son.

    "I think people are very wasteful. They have money and they say, 'I'll take the best you've got,'" said Crowell, 85. "We make it last."

    Crowell's wife, Carolyn, 83, recalled her father driving the family into town to check out the rumor of banks closing.

    "I see banks going down today, and it seems familiar," she said. Empty restaurants and storefronts are also disconcerting.

    The signs are everywhere that tough times may be here for a while. With limited income, many who survived Depression years can't fall back on hard work to pull them through again.

    "Even before this they were making decisions on (whether to pay for) medicine or food," said Susan Beyle of the Orleans Council on Aging.

    "Now, they can't go back to work, and they can't go back to their kids to help them out because they are out of work."

  • #2
    life is going to change very rapidly, for everyone. get ready!!!!!