While on self imposed R & R, I spent some time reading articles and watching videos about the Great Depression of the 1930's. I have very little understanding of the Stock Market nor do I care much about the politics of the time. My focus is on how the average citizen managed to keep body and soul together through those hard times.
One reoccurring theme was having cash on hand. Banks closed their doors and folks could not access the money in their accounts. People lost their entire life savings, not to mention their homes. Renters were evicted because they had no money to pay their rent. Those who had stashed cash in their mattresses probably didn't have enough cash to last for years but chances were pretty good they had enough to at least give them time to make rational decisions on what to do before the cash ran out.
Those who lived in the country fared better than the city dwellers. They planted gardens, kept chickens for meat and eggs, had a cow for milk and butter and raised hogs for meat. Many of those interviewed who lived through the Depression said they didn't know there was a Depression because they had plenty to eat. And they had products to barter for what they couldn't buy. They would trade eggs and butter for sugar and coffee. They sometimes paid the doctor bills with vegetables from their gardens. They were cash poor but they had the means to work around that.
Those in the cities felt the effects of the Depression sooner and to a greater degree than the country folks. Jobs disappeared. Food became scarce. In February of 1931, desperate to feed their families, citizens of Minneapolis rioted, smashing the windows of closed grocery stores and running off with whatever food they could carry. This was repeated over time in many areas of the country.
In the cities, soup kitchens run by churches and private charities were opened to feed the masses of hungry people. Bread lines formed as people stood in lines for hours in hopes of being given a loaf of bread or other food to feed starving families.
Those who had a variety of skills were better off than those who knew only the skills required to do the jobs that no longer existed. A man who knew how to shingle a roof, clean a chimney, do maintenance work on a vehicle could earn cash or barter his services for food. Women provided laundry services, baked bread and cakes to be sold, did sewing for those who didn't know how. The more skills a person had, the better their chances of survival.
People learned to 'make do.' Lacking money for new clothes, holes were patched, seams were taken in or let out as needed to make a piece of clothing fit, holes in stockings were darned. Mothers used whatever they had on hand to fashion clothing for their children - old sheets, flour sacks, etc. Old cloth coats were taken apart and turned inside out to sew new coats or jackets for the children. Scrap fabric was saved and turned into quilts. Nothing was wasted.
Broken tools, appliances, furniture were not thrown out but were repaired until they could no longer be fixed. People glued soles back onto worn boots. Others lined the insides of their shoes with cardboard to cover the places where holes were worn through the soles. Children wore shoes only in the winter, for there was no money to buy new shoes and they weren't to be worn out in the warmer months when kids could go barefoot.
Today we live in a disposable society. We break the Mr. Coffee, we buy a new one. We have more shoes than any one person can ever wear out. We have clothing hanging in the closets that aren't worn because the fashion of the day dictates these items to be 'out of style.' We firmly believe that the supermarkets will always be open, filled with every imaginable product to eat. We rarely carry cash, choosing rather to whip out our credit cards to pay for nearly everything. And we no longer know how to can tomatoes or sew a seam or bake a loaf of bread.
If we ever have another set of circumstances resulting in another Depression, I fear most of America will be in a world of hurt due to a total lack of knowledge needed to survive.
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