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The Great Depression

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  • The Great Depression

    Great Depression holds lessons for surviving tough economy

    (CNN) -- Memories of salvaging and stealing to avoid going hungry are part of the legacy of the Great Depression. Some iReporters say they can't help but look at the current economy and feel the past holds lessons for the present.

    Donna LeBlanc of Waxia, Louisiana, says she carries no credit to this day as a result of the frugality and self-reliance instilled in her by her family. Her husband keeps the couple's credit card and maintains a zero balance.

    The Great Depression meant scary times for many households as a period of economic downturn spread throughout the world. Historians trace its start to the "Black Tuesday" stock crash on October 29, 1929, and argue that the resulting global desperation set the stage for World War II.

    LeBlanc said her grandparents were fortunate that they didn't have investments and could grow -- or catch -- their own food during the Depression years.

    Her grandfather Lester was a "Cajun cowboy" often seen wearing a cowboy hat, and her grandmother Ida was a resourceful woman who spent much of the 1930s working as a store clerk. LeBlanc, always told never to keep credit card debt, heard frightful stories from Ida. See a photo of the happy couple together after all these years

    "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," LeBlanc said. "The store must have been at least marginally successful, because my grandmother was able to purchase, a piece at a time, a complete six-person setting of Gorham Chantilly silverware for her trousseau, linens and even a Lane cedar chest to house her treasures."

    The couple would catch wild hogs, feed them corn for a year and eat them once the wild taste was out of the scavenging animals. They also took advantage of available squirrel meat, a common food in the South at that time.

    "It was a uniquely disgusting thing ... 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," LeBlanc said.

    Years after the Depression, LeBlanc's grandparents were well off once again. Ida became a packrat and couldn't help saving what she could. When the family opened up the old cedar chest after she died, they found a decades-old treasure trove of sewing materials and other keepsakes. "My dad used to cry when he spoke of that Great Depression"

    The Great Depression turned many Americans into packrats who couldn't bear to part with anything of potential value. They couldn't always afford to buy what they needed.

    Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Williamsburg, Virginia, says her grandfather, Glen Surber, resorted to stealing food at times because he had hit rock-bottom.

    Surber left the family behind in Saltville, Virginia, so he could head out to West Virginia's coal mines. After he got laid off, he found himself trying to steal chickens from a nearby farmer to feed his hungry family. He hid behind a tree to wait for nightfall, but his plan was stymied when he found another person lurking in the shadows.

    "Both men took off running and then they realized they each thought the other was the farmer, but they were both there to steal a chicken," van Hylckama Vlieg said. "Needless to say, that was another night of water bread." Can you imagine having to steal to eat?

    Digging into her memories, van Hylckama Vlieg says her grandfather eventually found a work program after the New Deal and was able to rebuild his life.

    She is confident we haven't hit another Depression and that we've learned enough lessons from the past to avoid letting things get as bad as they were before.

    "Poppy always said the world turns and everything that has happened would happen again. I am sure if he were still with us today he would be warning us to start a garden and buy some chickens."

    Saving is a habitual behavior for those who have lived through the Great Depression, says Anjanette Sanchez of Globe, Arizona. Her grandmother, Vera Vasquez, had a difficult time with the Great Depression and seemed to be scarred by it long after.

    "She spoke of the time with great disgust in her voice as if it was the most awful time of her life," Sanchez said. "She mostly spoke of being hungry and having to wear old boots that didn't fit." Read about those times when nothing could be wasted

    Vasquez continued to save her things and always kept her freezer packed with food -- like frozen cactus to eat with her scrambled eggs -- because she'd lived through harsh times. There was never room for ice cubes.

    "I guess to her, food was more valuable than ice," Sanchez said. "Her motto at the table was to eat as much as you want, but not to waste the food. Take all you want, but eat all you take."

    Sanchez now passes on the same ideas to her children and reminds them not to be wasteful. Do you have a story about the Great Depression? Share it with us

    Other iReporters had plenty to say, and shared their stories about the lessons they have learned and applied from the Great Depression:

    Kimberly Kolaski of Richmond, Virginia, says her family's claim to fame is her great granduncle Paul Satko's remarkable attempt to travel to Alaska in a wooden ark to find land and a better life. He spent a couple of weeks making the treacherous trip on board the boat, termed the Ark of Juneau.

    "He was on a mission and he was going to do it no matter what," Kolaski says. She's heard numerous stories about the hardships Satko endured, including being stopped while driving his unusual payload to Seattle, Washington, where the ark was to be launched.

    The story is inspirational for the family and provides a sobering lesson about economic security for Kolaski. Find out more about the ark and Satko's travels

    "I've learned to put my money away and don't touch it," she says.

    Sheila Elrod of Atlanta, Georgia, says many secrets to success have been passed along through the years in her family.

    "My grandfather, born in 1898, was an established small businessman by 1929, owning and managing a gas station and grill patronized by the mill workers. As his children and grandchildren grew into adulthood, he reminded us of some guiding principles that he learned during the depression."

    Elrod says her grandmother worked inside the nearby mill because people of the time believed that one must "work hard, regardless of your status."

    "Oddly enough, she and her sisters were ladies that were taught all the graces of being ladies," Elrod said. "However, here's an example that even ladies didn't shy away from hard work during that time. See a family photo and the mill where Elrod's grandmother worked

    Elrod said her grandfather had to be careful to whom he gave credit and learned many smart business secrets along the way. He passed them along to Elrod:

    1. Always do the right thing.
    2. Take care of the customer.
    3. Pay attention to details.
    4. Know the people with whom you are doing business.
    5. NEVER borrow money without a clear plan for how you will pay it back.

    Richard Holland of Phoenix, Arizona, says his grandfather packed up a Ford Model T in search of a better life. The family ended up taking shelter in a barn while Orville Holland continued onward to find work.

    "In those days, telephones were few and far between across the Great Plains, and months elapsed with no word or money from my grandfather. The coming winter was a serious concern as they considered the threat of living in the unheated barn." Read the story of what it's like to have a family living in a barn

    "As fall approached, the story continues that my grandfather returned in a borrowed car. He had walked, hitchhiked and ridden the rails until he secured a job, saving every penny to finally rent a place for his family."

    Gayla Uslu of Conyers, Georgia, says she never understood why her grandmother was so big on saving plastic bowls and other packaging until now.

    "She grew up in the depression and also lived in a rural area, far from the soup and bread lines in the urban areas. It wasn't just a matter of getting food, it has to be stored and kept long-term as well." Read about the moneysaving tips Uslu has learned

    Uslu finds much to learn from her grandmother and catches herself doing the same things that mystified her before.

    "Today, I find myself really thinking twice before I throw uneaten food away. Leftovers aren't such a bad idea anymore, and I find myself holding on to a few of those plastic containers myself."

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  • #2

    Thanks for that great story. It brings back such great memories of my own Grandparents habits adopted during The Great Depression. They couldn't bring themselves to throw out plastic bowls either; I adopted their habit and almost have to force myself to throw away a container.

    They also grew, canned, and pickled vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, peppers, and a relish of vinegar, cabbage and peppers known as chow-chow. They had a crabapple tree and a Japanese Cherry tree and had a whole freezer-full of peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and creamed corn.

    Grandpa also had a woodworking shop, complete with a table saw, jig saw, drill press, a power lathe, and walls full of every kind of hand tool imaginable. He made grandfather clocks, tables, and chairs as gifts for friends and family when he wasn't working in the textile mill.

    When Grandma finally died, the family was clearing out the freezer and some of the things dated as far back as 1964!

    My other Grandfather came to the mills from a sharecropper's farm in Royston, GA, then married my other Grandma. He worked double shifts supporting five boys and Grandma also worked in factories during World War II. They also had a coal-fired wood stove to heat the house and a pile of coal with a coal bucket in the back yard. Grandma would wash clothes with a hand wringer and a #10 wash tub that also served as a bath tub. She would hang them on a clothesline to dry in the Sun, something that would scandalize even the Wisteria Lanes and planned, homeowner association communities of today.

    I could go on forever, but you get the idea. There is much to learn from our past that may help carry us into the future.
    "Apocalypse is by no means inevitable." --Jim Rice.


    • #3
      This is a good one to bring back. My grandparents went through some hard times in those days. If it wasn't for the farm, there was no telling how things might have been for them. They had 10 children to feed.
      But as I read this again for the second time, it makes me wonder how things could be in the near future if a big depression like this happens again. People back then may have only stolen chickens and whatnot to survive but in today's world I think things are going to be a lot different. Home invasions will be massive I think. These are great stories that maybe we could learn how to put the depression of 1929 into what would be different in today's world. If we could figure out the things that they went through back in those days, maybe we could figure out how it could be in today's world just by watching what is going on in the news. I do know it will be a lot different as I believe that a lot of people now days will be killed for what little food they have.


      • #4
        My Grandparents lived through the Great Depression as well. To the best of my knowledge they faired better than most. Both sides of my family lived in New York City. On one side my Great-Grandfather was a furniture maker. Most of what he did went to wealthy families who never know what a depression is. As far as I know he was always employed, and they lived a normal life. On my father's side my Great Grandfather worked for what would today be called ICE. He processed immigrants through Ellis Island.

        I can say that the Great Depression dramatically affected their lives, and the lives of the next generation, my parents. They saved every penny, and would never deficit spend. If you couldn't pull the cash out of your pocket or write a good check you didn't buy it. PERIOD!! I was raised with the same philosophy. My parents never lived beyond their means, and we had a very normal, comfortable middle class life.

        If I see a difference between the Great Depression and today it is one of attitude. Back then people wanted to work. They were ashamed to accept a handout. It was unheard of for the government to intervene. Government spending back then was about 3% of the GNP. Today it is in the 20% range. There was no Welfare State.

        In today's culture people would sit on their duff, and expect to be taken care of. They expect everything to be handed to them. During the Depression people moved their entire family across country to find work. Today they won't get off the front porch. I find it to be a disgusting, entitlement attitude.

        This is an interesting link from a world-class expert on the cause of the Great Depression:

        It makes me want to prep even more.
        The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

        Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you are stupid, and make bad decisions.


        • #5
          Morgan that was an interesting link. Knowing how things are going in today's world, one of the first things we did was to pay off the house, the car is paid off and we have no charge card loans.. The only bills we have are utilities, insurances, and homeowners and personal property taxes. I have always felt that should be the first line of prepping. Then working on food storage, water and so many other things we all need to do.
          I must say Cedar seems to be on the right track and can really be a great blessing on this forum. I really think I myself as well as others can learn a lot. I do know I have learned a lot from all the others on here such as Richfl and many others whom have such great knowlege with prepping. I started prepping back in 2012 after we got some things in order and is also when I found this site. It has served me well to make plans for future things I need to do as well as things I have already done. Depite all of that, I know I still have a lot to learn. And yes I really want to get that chicken coup going but will have to wait for son in law's job to settle down first. Can't wait. Fresh eggs, YUM.


          • #6
            AJ: You are definitely on the right track. I have been prepping for a long time, and to be perfectly honest it was my wife who got me started. When we were dating she would make a mini Winter survival kit for my car. I thought she was crazy. Why do you need a Winter survival kit? I grew up in southern Arizona. During the Winter you wore a jacket in the morning, and by afternoon you threw it in the back of the car. While I never got stranded, after a few Winters I realized it was a good idea to have one. Fast forward a few years, and I am a Sales Rep covering a territory that is a 200 mile radius from my house. Now I get serious about being stranded on the road, and I put together what we now call a Bug Out Bag. I could safely live in my car for at least three days if I was ever stuck someplace. That has evolved into a life style that to my way of thinking is practical. Why would you not prep? Everywhere every day things happen that can turn your life upside down. We have discussed it here.

            While your physical skills have diminished you have a vast amount on knowledge, and the ability to pass that on to another generation. That is an invaluable skill that is every bit as important as the physical skills of others. Without you those skills would be lost. I agree with you. Cedar has been a great asset. She has wonderful skills, and is willing to share. I am really glad that she joined and shares in the forum. That is why we are all here. To learn and to share with good people. We all have something to contribute. We have all helped each other. Goes to the old adage " two heads are better than one."
            The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

            Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you are stupid, and make bad decisions.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Morgan101 View Post
              AJThat has evolved into a life style that to my way of thinking is practical. Why would you not prep? Everywhere every day things happen that can turn your life upside down.

              Originally posted by Morgan101 View Post
              While your physical skills have diminished you have a vast amount on knowledge, and the ability to pass that on to another generation. That is an invaluable skill that is every bit as important as the physical skills of others. Without you those skills would be lost.
              And if you lose everything, you have those skills to rely on. No one can take those skills from you... And YES!!! Pass them on!!! So many of our heritage and common sense and DIY, and ancient "cheats" are becoming exinct... Help preserve them!!!