A Child of a Depression Baby

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The Great Depression had a pretty significant impact on my mom. Her father (my grandfather) used to tell fascinating stories about life during the 1920’s and 30’s of trying to make ends meet by teaching children sometimes older than himself in a one room school house, waiting on tables to pay for college, and working as a strike breaker in coal mines. Life was certainly hard for him, but it built character, and eventually he wound up doing pretty well for himself. I guess the stories must have been fairly dramatic, because my mom would take the frugality concept to a level never seen before. 

Growing up in a “depression baby” household for my brothers and I proved sometimes challenging.  Family meals would occasionally resemble science experiments.  Repurposing was the correct verb here.  No leftover food was ever discarded regardless of the state it was in, and every vessel used to store or transport food was always reused at least twice.  The kitchen sometimes resembled more of a laboratory than a place to prepare meals.  Tin foil pans, bottles, gadgets, and cellophane were collected in various corners. Meatloaves, stews and corn beef hash became dangerous because you never knew what was “contained” within. I am quite certain that between my brothers and me, we probably have the best immune systems ever developed by human beings. 

Bringing lunch to school tended to be a dreaded affair for me for a couple reasons. Firstly the lunch container was always a reused plastic whole wheat bag that I was required to return home every day.  Secondly, there was the fearful surprise of what was inside. Bologna was usually a given, but sometimes peanut butter and wheat germ along with a piece or “mature” fruit that was bought at the grocery store on sale, was added for the sake of variety.  I honestly never really enjoyed fruit until I was in my 20’s for this reason.  It was like discovering a whole new food group.

After a time the children learned to develop various survival techniques. I became pretty adept at swallowing mouthfuls of food rather than actually having to chew them. The family dog loitering around the premises was indispensable. In this case that poor dog really became man’s best friend! I also learned a few magical tricks of how to make significant quantities of food disappear into a napkin. Some of our friends actually had Skippy peanut butter, Fluffernutter, and Coca-Cola. We were frequent guests.

Writing this article brings back great recollections of a fun childhood. Despite all mentioned, each of our wives marvel that the three sons grew up to be fairly normal adults. When we now get together (Mom included), we all have a hearty laugh about those precious memories.  Let us not forget however the lesson that my mom taught us, that being frugal is a tremendous way to save money!

This article was written by Tom Fletcher.