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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Heritage - June 2009

A House Isn't a Home
Submitted by Shirley M. Back, age 81, Galion, Ohio

The spring I turned three, Daddy lost his job as a mechanic and chauffer for a wealthy family in Massachusetts. When the gentleman died of a heart attack, his family closed the mansion and returned to Europe.

Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.Daddy tried to find jobs. None lasted very long, like the winter job of cutting and hauling blocks of ice to the ice house from the lake. With no jobs to be had, he and mother gathered their few belongings and me into their car, said goodbye to their parents before starting west to where he'd heard help was needed.

His small savings started us on a trip to one job after another. The front seat of the car unlatched and could be laid back to meet the back seat, making a bed for my folks in shabby weather. I slept on a pillow on the floor in the front. Nice weather allowed sleeping on the ground. Farmers didn't mind when travelers used a pull off space on their land to sleep in safety. Some of these areas became campgrounds for several people at night. Bonfires were allowed with the promise the last one to leave would drown it before leaving.

After sitting in the car so much, traveling between jobs, the three of us looked forward to camp time, a meal, visiting with other job hunters and resting. I especially like walking around. Many times I found where some folks had unwittingly dropped a few pieces of change on the ground, so I was always on the lookout! I enjoyed seeing how happy it made my dad when I brought it to him. He was thrilled if I found a dime, for gasoline was 9 cents a gallon.

I was almost three when we left Massachusetts, so sleeping in the car was fine. Later, Daddy swapped for a tent. Somewhere along the way, he was given three cots! Four times in our travels, we were given a one or two room house to use as part of his job's pay. Food was scant. Many days we made do with coffee and a can of some vegetables. To find a sack of old bread was great! Coffee soup is one slice of bread covered with coffee.

If working for a farmer, pay was given in food! Across the states we went, picking crops as they ripened. When it became known Daddy was a good mechanic, some jobs picked up. In several states, it was farm work, in Washington he cut down large trees for a paper company. In California, he labored for a variety of jobs until the earthquake in the early 30s sent us back east.

In Ohio, he helped put through roads. When working outside of Albany, it was decided they must settle down. It was spring. I turned six and would need to start school. Their favorite stop was Ohio.

When I questioned why we didn't have a home like other folks did, Daddy told me, "A house isn't a home. A home is wherever the three of us are together!"

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.)