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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 2010

Living Through the Great Depression
Submitted by Robert A. Bohyer, Age 84, Lima

I lived with my parents in Lima during those trying times. My father was employed at the B&O Railroad when the stock market crashed. He was laid off shortly after this, approximately 1932. I had one brother and two sisters. Dad would go out two to three times per week looking for work. He took odd jobs like picking fruit or shucking corn.

Dad lost our house and car when he did not make his payments. We rented houses and had to move six or seven times because we could not afford the rent. Many things became rationed, such as gasoline and grocery staples. We had no auto, so walking was the only way to go.

My father was employed at the B&O Railroad when the stock market crashed.Some things were unattainable. We had to go on welfare. I hated to wear the welfare clothes because everyone could spot them and would make fun of us. I could not afford school books, so the school board loaned them to me, and at the end of the term I had to pay for any damages. I remember I was taking industrial art class and could not pay for the wood. The teacher gave me scraps of wood to use, and this was very demeaning. I could not play any sports because the equipment cost too much. I became very envious of the few who could afford these things.

We had very little to eat with no variety. My mother worked very hard trying to come up with healthy meals. In the summer, Dad grew things in our garden, which helped. I never tasted steak until I went into the Air Force in 1943, at age 18. One thing that sticks in my mind is eating at the "soup kitchen" every Wednesday at noon. It was on South Main Street and was run by the Salvation Army. Before we ate, everyone sang "Oh Buelah Land." I still sing this song.

In approximately 1936, F.D.R. started the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration). This was run by the government, and men were hired and paid to do construction and public works. Dad was hired and this made things a little better. The wages were small, but it put food on the table. I remember sitting on the front yard watching my Dad and other men laying bricks for our street. I must have been about 10 years old.

Food and clothing were not the only hardships. In the winter, members of our family would huddle together in the evenings around the pot belly stove trying to keep warm. Fuel was hard to afford. My father and other men would watch for coal trains that might stop on some nearby tracks. If one stopped, the men would climb on the cars and throw off coal until the train started to move. This kept us warm for awhile.

There were a few fathers in the area that were fortunate enough to have a job. One was the father of my best pal. It was very hard to see their station wagon come home every two weeks, loaded with groceries. The years that are still vivid are when I was seven to 15 years old, during the 1930s. There was so much poverty. Even if you had the money, food stamps were needed to buy many things.

But on the brighter side our family survived. My mother did part time sewing. She was a great mother. In the cold winter she would heat flat irons on the stove and wrap them in towels so we could pat them to our feet when we went to bed in unheated rooms. I had Christian parents and went regularly to church even if we were poor. This poverty tore families apart but we managed to cope until things became better. I began to deliver papers and sold ice cream bars on my bicycle. My dad was called back to his railroad job about 1940. In a few years, my brother and I entered the service. We survived!

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.)