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From 1929 until 1936, my mother worked at Turoff's Restaurant in Marion, Ohio. She was a widow supporting two daughters. She was paid $5 a week for six twelve-hour days. She never had Saturday nor Sunday as a day off. She did not complain. There were many, many people with no income. She felt blessed.
Illness and injuries were handled much differently in those days. There was no emergency squad nor emergency room. Most people did their own doctoring. They used castor oil, soap and water soaks, Epsom salts, scalded milk for diarrhea, warm oil put in an aching ear or someone who smoked blowing smoke into an aching ear, inhaling Vick's or some other inhalant over a boiling teakettle, or maybe camphorated oil was rubbed on my chest when I had a cough. Other ointments were bought from the traveling Watkins man.
When I was four years old, I was knocked unconscious by a rock thrown by another child. The children carried me to a nearby house where I was revived and the blood was washed off my head with a cool, wet cloth. The children carried me home. No doctor was called and my hair has covered the untreated scar for 81 years.
I had whooping cough, chicken pox and other illnesses without a doctor. People had no money for doctors. When my finger was shut in the neighbor's car door, my mom had me walk around for a couple days with my finger in a cup of warm water that had turpentine in it. The finger is crooked but it works.
Eating was different in those days, too. We didn't come to a table and complain because the food wasn't what we liked. There were not many choices. We ate or went without. Some days, bread and gravy tasted very good. But, regardless of how little we had, we would stretch it to share with the many homeless tramps who came to our back door.
My paper dolls were pictures of women cut from the Montgomery-Ward catalogue. They sat on a window sill where I played Lady's Aid meetings.
We did not always get the latest news because we had no car, phone, radio nor newspaper. But if some big news happened, like the burning of the Ohio State penitentiary (about 1930), there would be news boys running up and down the streets calling in their loudest voices "Read all about the burning of the Ohio State Penitentiary." So, we heard about it that way.
We learned about deaths when neighbors hung black wreaths on their doors. When I was in the third grade, a big orange sign on a porch that read "QUARANTINE," and a red-eyed mother saying, "Don't stop for Rebbeca anymore," told me that my best friend had died.
We were poor, but so was everyone we knew. So we didn't feel sorry for ourselves. My mom laughed a lot and people loved good jokes pulled on each other. Mom always said, "The Lord always hears the widow scrape the bottom of the barrel." I guess He did. We didn't starve and we learned some great lessons about what things are really important in this life.
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.)