I grew up in the 1930’s. That time is now remembered as The Great Depression. Nobody had any money. I could say along with a C&W song “Somebody told us the stock market fell, but we were so poor that we couldn’t tell.” We were told to “eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” and we did.
Hobos and tramps sometimes came by, asking for work and some food. Once a man came by asking Daddy for work, but he told the man he didn’t have any work. Mother called out to Daddy and told him to ask the man to stay and eat, for we might be “entertaining angels unaware” like the Bible says. So he called the man, Mr. Adams, back and we fed him. He stayed for awhile and helped Daddy in the field. Mother washed his dirty clothes. She boiled the grimy clothes in the wash pot. I don’t know how old the man was, but he seemed old to me. He had long hair and a bushy beard.
We lived on a farm in the country, so we always had plenty to eat. I suppose we were better off than some. We milked and sent the milk to town on the milk truck. In summer we kept the milk cool by putting the milk cans in cold water right out of the well.
We had no electricity until about 1941 when Lyndon Johnson got the REA to put in lines in rural Texas. It is hard to imagine a time without power. We had a battery radio before we got electricity which we got a converter for when power came. After the milking was done at night we listened to Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow, and Henry Aldridge.
In the afternoon as we shelled peas, or peeled peaches, we listened to soap operas such as Judy and Jane, Ma Perkins, and the Guiding Light. For other entertainment, we went to church on Sunday and Wednesday. Twice a year we had a week-long revival with an out-of-town evangelist.
We went barefoot all summer, but got a new pair of shoes when school started. It had to last us all year. If we got a hole in the bottom of a shoe, we cut out cardboard to fit and walked on that till it got wet, then replaced it. I remember getting paid to pick cotton for somebody and spending the money I made on school clothes.
After WWII started, shoes were rationed. We had ration stamps for other things like sugar, gasoline, and flour. To help the war effort, we didn’t complain (much). One summer Daddy got a job with the WPA when crops were “laid by.” While he was doing that he worked on the road. An added benefit was that the government gave our extra commodities at the Monticello schoolhouse. Daddy brought home some flour. Mother was outraged; she didn’t want to accept “charity.” She said she would cook with it for us, but she wouldn’t eat a bite.
The war lasted all the time I was in high school. V-E day was May 8, 1945, the year I graduated. V-J day was August 14. Everything changed after the war. We got an electric refrigerator, and an electric sewing machine. We never became rich and always had to work hard for what we got.
All over the country, women gave up their wartime jobs for a while, but it became more common for mothers to work.
That was so long ago, such a different time. Life as we know it today would have seemed incredible to us then.
Elizabeth Gill is a retired Barbers Hill ISD English teacher and teaches Sunday school at First Baptist Church in Mont Belvieu.