My parents grew up during “The Great Depression.” Dad rarely talked about it, yet mom did until the very end. She always warned my brother, Jim, and I that it could happen again.
Mother told stories of harvesting the fields at her parent’s small farm in Vernon, Alabama during that time. Working alongside her older sisters, they picked cotton and helped tend a garden for food. Whatever produce they managed to raise in abundance, the family traded it to nearby neighbors for items they didn’t have.
Mom talked of going without where new clothes were concerned. The girls made their own dresses out of flour sacks. Hand me downs or clothing given to them was never questioned. In spite of bad times, the photos I’ve come across show them smiling and happy.
Some of the stuff she mentioned them eating didn’t sound appetizing to me. Squirrel, possum, goat, crow, chic peas, to name a few. I always figured mom was pulling my leg about eating goat and crow. She said if you didn’t eat what was on the table, you went without. There were no fast-food restaurants down the road for backup measures.
She mentioned how hard it was in getting to school. During her earliest years mother walked to a one-room school with her older siblings. In high school years, she rode in the back of a truck converted into a student transporter. Mr. Turner would pick them up at the bottom of Haynes’ Hill on Old Highway 17.
During one of those winter trips the vehicle became stuck in the middle of a muddy road. They had to sit and wait until a tractor came along and eventually pulled them out. It was bitter cold that morning. The students were all shivering by the time they reached their destination.
I loved telling my kids about my school days. Gunnar and Miranda went to a private Christian school. They had no idea about riding a bus because there was none. I try to interject humor into my recollections. Remembering mom’s tales of woe about school transportation, I added some literary spice to my experiences.
“We had to walk a quarter mile to the bus stop. During winter, sometimes the bus would be late. We nearly froze to death on several occasions.”
The tale somehow got back to my mother and she asked me about it. When I told her I was merely stretching things a bit to make things more interesting, she gave me that not amused glare. To this day I still don’t know which child snitched on me.
I recently came across an old newspaper article regarding the Free Will Baptist Church in Vernon. This is one that my parents attended including my grandparents and great-grandparents.
The church women were having a BBQ on Monday, a day after the Fourth of July. Back then, in most all Alabama towns, church services took precedence over any holiday should the festivity fall on a Sunday. Times seem to have changed.
Reading the aged The Lamar-Democrat newspaper invite, I was able to place myself at this event via a good imagination. In today’s world, we’d refer to such as a virtual visit.
Pastor Warren: “Brother Hankins, I’m sorry we ran out of chicken and hot dogs. I see you haven’t partook of the goat?”
Me: “No sir preacher, I’m a vegetarian!”
Pastor Brown unleashed a piercing stare, knew that he’d caught me in a little white lie. Seeing the seriousness of my blunder, I quickly corrected things.
“Well…. at least I am today!”
I pray we don’t enter another great depression after this Covid-19 pandemic. That’d be a sour way to finish out these final years. That perhaps sounds a bit selfish on my part.
I do think this will be a good lesson for many young folks. Just as mom tried to teach my brother and me, some will now see fit to save money for rainy days, including put extra food aside for emergencies. Many will even learn to eat what’s on their plate without complaining, whether they like it or not.
Perhaps the appreciation of simple things like board games and mere conversation with family and friends will once again reenter people’s lives.
The smart ones will learn from this I’m quite sure!