I grew up in a close-knit family with grandparents who lived during the Great Depression. For those of you who are foggy on the subject, the Great Depression was a severe, worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930’s. It was the longest and most widespread depression of the 20th Century.
The depression began after a major fall in stock prices in the United States in September of 1929. On October 29, 1929 (known as Black Tuesday) the stock market crashed in this country and the depression was felt world-wide.
To give you an idea of the scope of the Great Depression, let’s compare it to the recent Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 when so many of us lost money and where the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell about 1%. (The GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided during one year.)
Between the years of 1929 and 1932, the GDP fell by an estimated 15%. International trade plunged by 50% and everything dropped…profits, tax revenues, and personal income.
During the depression years, unemployment in this country rose to 25% and people did whatever they could to get by. In some countries, the unemployment level went as high as 33%.
One of my great-grandmothers and grandmothers (who was a little girl at the time) sold flowers from their garden at home to help make ends meet during the Great Depression.
My grandparents on the other side were farmers so they at least had food to eat during those difficult years. All of my grandparents had big vegetable gardens every year even into old age. One of my favorite pictures of my mother’s father was taken when he was around 80 years old and was using his roto-tiller to get his garden ready for spring planting.
People who lived through the Great Depression tended to be frugal for the rest of their lives. Some didn’t trust the banks with their money and would keep it hidden somewhere at home such as under their mattress. All of them saved everything, some to the point of hoarding. When one has lived for years and had to do without, it’s just not something a person wants to experience again.
When I was growing up, I loved nothing more than time with my grandparents. But I also knew better than to throw anything away at their houses. Before anything was thrown in the trash, it was looked at to see if it could be repaired or repurposed. When they all died, their homes were full of lots of interesting saved items that made their children and grandchildren smile.
One of the things I remember most vividly about my farm grandparents was that they even saved the envelopes from their bills in the mail and would reuse them to make grocery and to do lists. As a child, I used to think this was a very funny habit, but what a smart thing to do if one couldn’t buy paper!
Today, I picked up over 1000 books at Taylor Printing in Dallas. It’s the second printing of my book, “The Button Box”. I think all four of my grandparents would be delighted that I wrote a book about our family button box and that early form of recycling where buttons were removed from worn out clothes to be reused on new clothing.
I didn’t live during the Great Depression, but I did learn a lot from others who did. I’m especially good at repurposing leftovers into a fun second meal. I don’t save everything like my grandparents and to some extent, my parents, but I don’t just throw things away because they are old or because I no longer have a use for them.
My current non-writing project is to restore two 50-year-old chairs given to me recently by my parents. If you read my blog regularly, you will recall them from my post, “The Golden Chairs” published on June 7th of this year. I’ve finished stripping the very old varnish off the legs and plan to re-stain them this week before I take the chairs to the upholsterer to be dressed in their new fabric.
One of the things I really like about our modern computer age, is that we have websites like nextdoor.com and freecycle.org and craigslist.com where we can find new homes for our castoff items so they don’t add to the modern trash heap. If you have items you no longer want, you can sell them online or list them in the “free” section of the online classifieds. As the old adage goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Or woman’s…