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THE 1930s, A DIFFERENT ERA?

In 1930, a depression year-my sisters and brother, all older, worked to support the family. Fay worked as an elementary teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, Jeanne worked for an insurance company, Sara for a broker on LaSalle Street, my brother Al was a junior partner in a small law firm. I was twelve, a freshman in high school; knowing things were not good, but not really knowing why. Aware of agonized whispering, counting out money, my parents making lists.
 

Fay came home from school one day and told us that the city of Chicago was broke, and that teachers would be paid in Scrip, not cash. My mother exploded, “Can we pay the rent with scrip? Oy, vey.” She clutched her head as if she felt another migraine headache coming on. My sister tried to reassure her, saying that we could buy food with Scrip, and maybe clothing in some places. She said we could offer Scrip to the landlord and hope for the best.
 
“Clothes I can sew, but potatoes I can't grow in concrete. Soup I can make from carrots and onions, but not from stones,”  was my mother's reaction...
 
When Sara came home that evening, she walked into the dining room with a heavy step, and told us that she was the only one left in the office. Everybody else was laid off. The next one home was my brother Al, who threw his briefcase on the table and said, “Court adjourned early today. Rumor is there's no money to pay the court clerks. God knows what's going to happen. Anybody listen to the news yet?” Nobody said anything. Then Jeanne came in, her face pale, looking as if she’d seen a ghost. She sat down without saying anything. Fay brought her a glass of water... My father hadn't come home yet.
 
Jeanne took a deep breath. She said, “Mr. Sloan tried to kill himself. When I came in this morning, I saw him half out the window, just his legs sticking out. I grabbed him and tried to pull him back in, but he kept pushing with his hands. Finally I grabbed the belt of his pants and leaned on his legs, and he finally relaxed and let me pull him back into the room.” She put her head down on the table.
 
My father came dragging in at that point. He walked over to where my mother was sitting, sat down and put his hand over hers. She looked at him with an “oy, what more can happen?” expression, and when he told her that his partner had gone off with the truck and all the tools, she made a face as if to say, I knew it, I knew it. She had been suspicious of Meyer since Pa had gone into business with him. Ma blamed Meyer for being careless, for allowing my father to fall off a roof they were working on, even though Pa kept telling her it was not Meyer's fault. Now Meyer had gone off with Pa's only chance of making a living, even with his hernia.
 
But Ma didn't say anything. She just gave Pa a look that would shrivel a plant, got up, went to their bedroom, and came back with her bankbook. “Sara, Jeanne, Al, Fay, get your bankbooks. We have to see what we’ve got.” This was before the bank failures of 1933, when “money in the bank” was the mantra for protection against all calamities. When all the bankbooks were lined up in front of her, she said to Al, “All right, add it up.” After Al counted up the money, Ma looked at the total and announced that we had enough for four months rent. “We'll manage,” she said. I remembered those words all my life; they became my mantra, the “I” replacing the “we.”
 
Our family made it through the depression years; I graduated from high school, and worked my way through college. We all managed in our own ways to survive, but we were scarred by those years, haunted by the fear of poverty. Now, seventy-eight years later, I sit in my garden, wondering how many families today are having the same kind of conversations around their own dining or kitchen tables that we had in 1930. This time, bank deposits are protected by the federal government, but mutual funds have disappeared, workers’ pensions have evaporated, school budgets are cut once again, and deceit and fraud are in the air.

Comments
12 Comment count
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New Deal

Hi Rhoda,

I just blogged with a link to UC Berkeley highlighting the New Deal projects, then went to check it on the main blog site, and saw your serendipitous entry.  Thanks for making the point that someone who lived the Great Depression and it's aftermath is seeing parallels to the past in today's headlines.

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Nowadays

If Americans now have to go through what you went through, as described above, there would be riots and attacks on immigrants.  $4 gas already has many of them hollering and complaining.  Imagine if they actually have to change their lifestyle, which many actually think is normal.

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My essay

Dear Thomas:

We are already experiencing riots and attacks on immigrants. What we haven't seen are men on the street selling apples or a march on Washington yet. Part of that is a sense of helplessness on the part of us ordinary citizens, which is the result of years of subtle propaganda. One of my young friends asked, in an agonized tone, "What can we do? How can we

deal with what is going on?" All I could say was, "figure your budget extra carefully, count your pennies, and plant vegetables. " One of the other things that happens in Depression years is that some people do figure out alternatives to the way they live, and innovations do occur. We've lived through the 60s and 70s, and I think some of us learned some important lessons during that period. Check out my book; it has some insights as to how to cope with what looks like disaster.

Thanks for writing.

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To Gloria White

Dear Gloria:

Thanks for your comment on my essay. Of course, the 1930s are not the "Ought" years, but the parallels are scary. It's the underpinnings; the infrastructure that is in place which allows the fraud and deceit to happen.

I checked your page, and your books look really interesting. Are you interested in a trade? I could mail you my book, RHODA: HER FIRST

HUNDRED YEARS, and you could send me one of yours. My address is

2324 Eunice Street, Berkeley CA 94708. What do you say?

 

Rhoda

 

 

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Beautifully written...

I really enjoyed reading this. I'm a history buff and one of the eras I've studied the most were the 1920's and 30's. About two years ago I started to feel vague stirrings of alarm, a sense of deja vu. Where had I read about this happening before? Ohhhh yeah. Now I remember. UH OH. 

It's definitely time (past time) to move into a "we" mentality for most folks. And to plant a garden! 

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The 1930s, A DIFFERENT ERA?

Replying to Robriel Wolff:

We are indeed in a dangerous period.  The similarities between then and now are truly frightening.  I too am a history buff, and when I review the history of Germany in the 20s and 30s, and see the parallels occurring in the United States today, I am truly frightened.  I remember a conversation with my brother-in-law, an economist, in the 40s, who said he didn't think a totalitarian government could succeed in the U.S. because of the strong middle class.

Well, the middle class is not all that strong any more.  And the attacks on the unions, the press, education degradation should be  strong warnings.

Remember Sinclair Lewis' book, IT CAN HAPPEN HERE, written in 1925? He outlined the process.

Thanks for writing.

Rhoda

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Hello Rhoda

I came across your information on Redroom and was delighted to watch both videos and read about your book which I look forward to reading. I was in your class at UC Berkeley in about 1982 and you visited me while I was living in London a few years later. I do hope that you remember and will be in touch. I've had a long and wonderful career in ESL/EFL.

Cheers,

Lesley Woodward

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The 1930s: A different era?

Dear Leslie:

It sounds as if you are finished with ESL/EFL.  What are you doing now?  Doget in touch with me.  I'm still teaching TESOL at Cal State in Hayward, just one day a week.

 

 

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Update

Since Iast saw you, I went Teacher's College and received an MA and MEd. in TESLOL/Applied Linguistics (I'm an ABD). I spent the 1998/99 academic year in Poland on an exchange through Western Michigan U. and witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Amazing. I've taught in the CUNY system in Manhattan, started my own teacher training certificate school in western MA. which I had to sell it after a disasterous accident with a truck. I moved back to Cleveland, Ohio which is where I was born & grew up and taught part-time at Cleveland State University in their IELP program. I retired a year ago. So much has happened that I hope to write a book about it.

 I stumbled on your webblog by accident and was happy to see that you are still active. All my best to you and your family.

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Thanks, Rhoda, for sharing...

You write so well. I was quickly hooked. I wanted to know more how your family did survive. Obvously your family members were among the intellectually strong--you in high school at age 12. But your mother sounded very practical--making soup of carrots and onions. I liked your thoughts that recession will cause changes in people's behavior. I do see that happening. And maybe we all need to read the Sinclair Lewis book you mentioned. I had not heard of it before.

My father was a teacher/principal paid by scrip in Carterville here in Southern Illinois. Mother kept as a souvenir an order she made to Sears-Roebuck because so many places did not accept the scrip. They left there and moved to Jonesboro, where Daddy was paid in money!

Small town life was not too different from rural life in those days. Even in town, Daddy rented a neaby pasture and shed to keep a cow for milk and butter. (Pat Boones' father did also.) They had chickens in the back yard with its chicken house just as the previous owner had done. They gardened. Mother picked blackberries and canned and was very thrifty. I was a depression baby born in 1933 in Anna-Jonesboro. My mother and my Aunt Grace loved to compete and share tips on how to live better for less. They almost made it glamorous with their enthusiasm. I read on Facebook the same sort of thing among our young women in this rural community. Several of them are into chickens and guineas for eggs and even goats! I am not sure what the goats are about.

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The 1930s: A different era?

Dear Sue: Thanks for writing. Have you read Barbara Kingsolver's book,"Animal,Vegetable, Miracle"? She describes living on the products of their small farm one year. It's a wonderful book, and made me want to start another organic garden, but my friends and neighbors discouraged that idea. At 91 1/2, my body is not as resilient as it once was! Goats are wonderful. They don't make much noise; they give milk and eat weeds.

You're right about my family. My mother was definitely the practical one of that couple. Perhaps it was the habit of making a budget and sticking to it that made it possible to survive. I bought my clothes from second hand shops, and also made soup from carrots and onions.

You didn't mention where you live now. If you are somewhere in the range of KPFA, 94.1 FM, I will be interviewed live on Monday, August 3 from 3:00 to 3:30 p.m. The program is called COVER TO COVER, and we will be talking about the book and other things.

Rhoda

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The 1930s: A different era?

Dear Lesley:

Glad to hear about all the adventures. Of course, write a book! And
don't worry if publishers/agents, etc. turn it down. Self-publish, as I did. My book, RHODA: HER FIRST NINETY YEARS is available at Amazon.com for about $20, or you can buy it from me--same price.
There are excerpts on my website: www.rhodabook.com.

I'm almost finished with the second book, which will be only about 200 pages. It has all the stories that didn't fit into the first one. Retirement to me meant simply changing jobs.

You can write to me at rhoda@rhodabook.com

Rhoda