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I was born in Pandora in 1915, which places my high school and college years squarely in the middle of the Depression. I was fortunate to have an older brother, an older sister and a younger sister. In the 1920s, the family moved from the Pandora-Bluffton Swiss community to Dover, where my father worked as a carpenter during the building boom of that decade. When the crash came in 1929, my father was out of work. He sold the nice new house he had built - much of it with his own hands - and bought into a Pandora business with one of his brothers. That business, as many others, failed. Finally, he got work at our church college in Bluffton, earning $1,000 a year as a maintenance supervisor.
Father had some education beyond eighth grade and was qualified to teach country school. Mother finished eighth grade, but as the oldest child in a large family, she was expected to stay at home and help with the work.
I think the generation of my and my husband's parents hungered for education and learning. They wanted their children to have what was out of reach for them. As I look back on those years, I now realize how hard my parents worked and sacrificed to make possible for all four of us children to have a college education. As a college employee, Dad was eligible to send us on half-tuition. Since we lived in Bluffton, we were spared room and board costs. In the summers, Mother and we girls helped with the annual cleaning of the college buildings.
Then there was the garden - always a huge one. I know now how much hard labor is involved to bring seeds to harvest time. Much of what we ate in the winter came from the canned food from the garden.
Family and church were great stabilizers during that period. Activities outside of family were largely centered in church and school. We took our family for granted; it would always be there. Uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins were all part of our extended family. A year's supply of apple butter came at the end of a day of apple butter stirring at Grandma's. So did the supply of pork from butchering day. An aunt came to help when Mother had a couple of bushels of peaches to can. Another aunt who had enough money to buy nice clothes periodically sent a box of things. Mother, who was an excellent seamstress, would make them over for us.
Somehow, we children knew enough not to ask for things that cost money. After several years of home economics in school, I had learned that it was cheaper to buy things in larger quantity. So, when mother asked me to get a five-pound bag of sugar at the store, I gave her my new learning. She quietly answered "Alma, I don't have the money."
The three phrases that typified that era: "Eat it up; wear it out; make it do." My older sister said that the only time she ever saw my dad cry was the Christmas when he said there was no money for a Christmas tree. At another time, she said, "If you lived through the Depression, you never get over the way it colored your life." She was right. Our greatest heritage: a mother and a father who, together, anchored us in religious faith and lasting values.
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.)