Saturday, October 11, 2008

Surviving Another Depression: Lessons Learned

Grandma May and Grampa Drew 036

You are looking at two people who did not just live through the Great Depression on a very small income, they raised a family of 8 children!

I realize there are many other couples that did the same thing, though perhaps not with so many children in one family. Nevertheless, we need to look to these wonderful examples and to consider the values they represent in our current lives.

My Grandpa Drew was a bookkeeper, an accountant, for a small company in Louisiana. He and his wife, May, had 8 children together. They raised all those children in a very small house in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This family lived at 18 Lawrence Street in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940's. People living in the United States now, in the year 2008, could barely imagine the hardships and decisions faced by May and Drew as parents during those years.

Yet all eight children were raised properly to be good children in the home, active citizens in their community, study hard, and work even harder. This all took place on a very small family budget in the small city that Lake Charles was at that time. There was no car in the driveway, no television set in the living room, and certainly not much money in bank.

There was no health insurance for this family. If someone got really sick the money had to found to pay a doctor in those days. It sure helped that May's sister, Nan, was a pediatrician but medicine still had to be purchased. Someone had to take care of the sick child until they got better. The other children had to help out in every possible way.

The older boys in the family went to work at a young age. After school jobs and weekend jobs were absolutely essential for meeting the family budget. The money my uncles earned went into the family jar used for paying all bills. Children were not paid allowances, they worked to keep everyone else alive!

Family on the Beach in 1919 16815

Those children all grew up, went to college, married, and had families. How did they afford to go to college in such a poor family? Some of the boys served in the military first and then went to college. Some of them got good grades in school and earned scholarship money. Others worked hard and paid for some of their college tuition themselves. My great aunt Nan helped to pay for college for some of her sister's children too.

Everyone contributed to the effort of raising a family in those days. Communities were closer in some ways, life was more simple in other ways. Books were mostly checked out of libraries for a few weeks, not purchased at book stores. Clothing was handed down from the older kids to the younger kids, and sewn by hand. Meals were made from vegetables grown in the garden, animals hunted, fish caught, as well as food from the store.

These are some of the ways that people survived the Great Depression. We would do well to begin re-learning how our ancestors made it possible for us to be here today.

I leave you with this image of my Grandpa Drew in later years, with his grandchildren all around him. Look at his face. Can you see the happiness? Can you see evidence of the struggles he faced over the years? It's all there. In fact, our ancestors are right there inside each one of us. Can you feel them?

My Family: Andrew Caldwell 011

3 comments: said...

Thanks for commenting and sharing your amazing articles with the visitors of!

I liked reading them a lot, this one is especially interesting to me, as I didn't realized, how our ancestors survived the depression.

Keep going, and thanks again!

TH Williams said...

Thanks, Your web site is very informative too!

Anonymous said...

i would love to read more insights from people who survived the 1930s Depression. I once spoke to a lady who worked out a great way to survive. She could afford bread but no butter and no filling. She wanted her children to have sandwiches to take to school. So instead she lightly spread dripping on the bread and then finely chopped up parsley. It is rich in vit c. It was all she had. Her children never complained, even though it must have been boring to get the same sandwich ever day. She grew the parsley in a patch near her back porch. At University i recall reading that those who did survive kept active, always on the lookout for small actions they could make to make a difference. Such as long walks along the beach early am, looking for driftwood they could use for fuel.