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I Was A Child Of The Depression Years

A story by Elsie Johnson



Born in 1921 My parents both were brought up on Kansas farms but after their marriage lived in Perry, Iowa, where my father worked on the Milwaukee RR as a freight conductor. I can remember the Depression years. My father didn’t always have work due to the slow down. My parents kept a full garden and some chickens on their half acre so we never experienced hunger as some families did. One of my vivid memories were the bums who would knock on our back door asking for food. (Mother said our house must be marked because she never refused food. (Sometimes it was only a couple of fried eggs). One time a big man just opened the back door, came in and sat at my fathers chair and demanded food! He must have been very hungry. My mother hurried and cooked something. We children were home for lunch and needed to go back to school. She said, you’re not going now. I was too young to realize what could have happened. Fortunately, he left after being fed. My father would tell of the bums riding the rails as they called it. It was desperate times for many. My parents were very careful about saving the money they had. I remember a note book my mother kept on her spending - every dime was recorded. Credit was offered in those times but my parents would never buy anything unless they could pay for it immediately. I still find myself doing the same! I don’t know how they did it but we always had a car. Sunday rides were a treat. I can’t believe how young people today burden themselves to debts and luxuries - cars - houses - vacations!! My father had a smoking cabinet in which he kept extra cash with a few cigars and his Indian Head penny collection. One day when mom had left her ironing board up, he took all his paper bills and pressed them. He liked neatness! He showed his Indian Head penny collection to a person and after that he never saw it again!! He was heart broken. One time he showed me a hundred dollar bill - I didn’t know we were so rich!! My mother had been a school teacher and didn’t know much about sewing. However, she made much of our clothing. A neighbor gave her a wool coat. She made a jumper for me from it. I wore it to school all that year changing my blouse daily. I did have a brown jersey dress for Sunday and special times only. I still remember that dress with flowers embroidered on the shoulder. Most of the clothes she made for us had panties to match. Several I had to wear were black satin panties and I hated those!! I babysat for $0.35 an evening 6pm to midnight. I took piano lessons weekly for $0.35 per half hour. When I was 16 I got a Saturday job at Woolworth’s for $0.15 an hour but could buy a blouse for $1.00. My father would buy a rubber sole kit from Woolworth’s to repair our shoes. We could go to the movies for $0.10 in the afternoon. Life was hard but we were happy and safe.

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 bums,desperate,garden,hungry,riding the rails,self reliance
  Perry, Iowa
Jun 16 2024


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