Friday, October 10, 2014

Activities from the Depression

This is my daughter at a festival recently. She looks a great deal like my grandmothers, even when not dressed for the era. I am glad she has an appreciation for the eras which preceded our own.   (Photo: Copyright © 2014 )


              My father was a little boy during the Depression in the US.   My mother was a tiny child during the Depression in England.  I have a fair amount of background knowledge as to what they saw during the Depression in those locations. I also know from the frugal manner in which they raised me, that they always thought the possibility of another collapse was there.   I also know from my grandparents what their fears were, and how they coped with them. A Depression or financial collapse here in the American South in the present day would have both commonalities and differences from the Depression that my parents knew as tots and small children.

            My father's family were considered to be upper middle class at the beginning of the Depression. He hailed from a connected California family.  My grandfather was a civil engineer and he designed and oversaw bridge building in California. . He bought a new car every year prior to the Depression.  He and my grandmother had two sons, my father who was the younger, and his half brother from my grandmother's prior marriage.  My grandfather had only known life as a fairly wealthy person, a child of by then wealthy cattle ranchers, and he lost his job at the beginning of the Depression. This required a lot of adjustment on the part of both of my grandparents. Eventually, they decided that their best strategy to safely surviving the Depression was to take their family somewhere isolated and safe that had a low cost of living, and simply wait out the Depression. They placed their possessions in storage with family members and moved to Tahiti for the duration.   This of course, took them from their large family as a support system, but the strategy largely worked, and taught their sons much about the ocean, life in another land, ships, and about flexibility.  Children often make very good use of the challenges their families are handed, particularly if the family loves them, and they remain together.

            My mother's family were governmental workers on a number of different levels in England during the Depression.  My maternal grandfather kept his job but found it insufficient in which to pay for his family. My grandmother did not work because she was already quite busy taking care of her husband and her three very young daughters. This began a pattern of clothing and possessions being hard to come by, and this was reinforced in England, during the war.  Things were so tight that my mother and aunts never had any type of pet because it would have been another mouth to feed.  Eventually, my grandfather kept his job during the day, and a few evenings a week drove a taxi as well.  When the war came, he was assigned also a job of being a voluntary driver to a firetruck which was called in England, the Fire Brigade.
            As a result of the war my parents lost people they likely would have married in other times.  They found each other later in life as a result, and therefore were mature parents when I arrived.  They knew of the Depression and they knew of the shortages and uncertainties of a world war. As a result, they raised me frugally and conservatively.

            After the war my parents moved from England to California where both of them worked in very good jobs. Their focus was to save as much money as possible before buying a home and raising children. Eventually, my father took a good job in the Northeast where I was to be raised.  A few years later we moved to the country there, where ostensibly, I was raised until college.

             Interestingly, as a result of their broad travels during and after the war, they had different views than many of the neighbors in 1960s.   Most of our neighbors continued my grandfather's practice of buying a new car annually.  My father never did.  He bought a used car and then did all the maintenance and oil changes on it himself.  My mother practiced conservation in all areas,  because this is what was done in England.  I often used to wonder why my parents didn't seem to enjoy life and spend money with the same use patterns as my friend's parents.  It took me many years to learn that they weren't frugal because we were poor, because we weren't. (Although there is no shame in being poor. A lot of the real work of the world is done by people who could be considered poor.)    They took a small mortgage on their home, selected it carefully, and then paid it off within five years.  At the end of that time, they made payments the same as the mortgage, to their own accounts.  They were frugal because no one knows what the future holds, and because frugality is not learned from lecturing about it. People need to see frugality and a work ethic applied, otherwise, they just don't get it.  My parents applied frugality because it was a set of lessons they wished their children to know.

             As my parents moved into old age, they still practiced certain aspects of frugality.  My Dad still bought canned supplies, labelled them with the date and kept a supply closet.  He also traveled extensively and without apology.   My mother still made all her own food from scratch.  However, she did like expensive clothing and shoes, and she did have some really lovely clothing and coats.

              Perhaps some of the best keys to living in challenging times is to look to see what our parents and our grandparents did, that worked.   Of course, no one is perfect, and I don't make fabulous decisions a hundred percent of the time myself, however, many of us have relatives who lived in very challenging times before us. Sometimes a gaze backward can be a big help with regard to present day decision making..