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I was born on May 10, 1922 on an 80-acre farm in Western Ohio. I lived with my mother, father and younger sister. My younger brother was 7 months old when he died of complications from whooping cough. Of course, in those times, we had no plumbing or electricity. My job was to bring in firewood each night after school, which we used to heat the house. And we used corncobs to help start the fire.
Living on a farm provided advantages that other families did not have because we could provide for ourselves. We raised cows and pigs for butchering, and we made our own butter in a wooden churn. We also had horses to work the fields, where we raised a variety of crops. Although we raised alfalfa, corn and wheat, we learned that we could earn the best profit by raising tobacco.
We had a sufficient supply of fruits and vegetables that we raised and harvested, including strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, melons and every vegetable imaginable. In order to have an abundant supply of food yearlong, we canned potatoes, apples, pears and cabbage, and some meats, which we stored in the dirt cellar. We also prepared and canned sauerkraut, applesauce and pickles. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, were kept in the bedroom under layers of newspapers.
I was in grade school when the Great Depression began. My grandfather had money in a bank and lost it all. The bank gave him a property 30 miles away that had been foreclosed in exchange for the savings lost.
Although the depression started in 1929, the effects lasted during most of my school years. In our community, bartering played a very large role in everyday life. While we were self-sufficient in many ways, we could barter to get things we did not have. Every week, the local "huckster" stopped at our house in a wooden-bodied truck. My father would trade eggs to the man in exchange for flour, sugar and other staples. The truck had an icebox; for an occasional treat, my father would trade for cheese or cold cuts.
We also bartered with our school. My parents traded items to the school so my sister and I could purchase lunch tickets. In junior high and high school, I also helped cook and serve the school lunches in return for lunch tickets and various other school expenditures.
Our family was self sufficient in other ways. We made our own lye soap, which we shaved to wash clothes in a ringer washer. We also used feed sacks to make clothes, sheets, pillowslips and even underwear. We would happily share hand-me-downs with other relatives. I accused my mother of purposely making my underwear three sizes too big just so they would last a long time.
When I was in the third grade, I needed glasses. To pay for them, my father worked in a local grocery store and also worked for a "threshing ring," which was a small group of local farmers who would pay my father to help with his steam-powered thresher.
My sister and I learned to appreciate simple indulgences. On one Christmas, my only gift was a pair of rayon panty hose. I thought it was a wonderful gift, because it was much nicer than the cotton I had always worn. And on another occasion, when I was a senior in high school, I had to make a choice between buying a winter coat and buying a high school class ring. I chose the coat.
As I was growing up during the depression, if someone asked me whether I felt deprived, I would have said no. We lived no better, and no worse, than anyone else in our community. And maybe most importantly, my parents never seemed very worried about the future. They made us feel safe and secure.
Story collected for the Ohio Department of Aging Great Depression Stories Project 2009.
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)