Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How My Grandparents Survived the Great Depression--Part 1

My grandparents were young adults during the Great Depression. Although they have been dead for quite a while, at this particular point in time, I really wish I would have asked them more about their lives during different periods of time, particularly the Great Depression. Since I basically grew up with them, however, I clearly remember many things they did that I believe were a result of living through the Depression. Here's what they did...
  1. They never went to a restaurant; they ate at home unless there was a family/church potluck or some other such event.
  2. They grew much of their own food; they always had a huge garden.
  3. Food was also caught, shot, or just got--fish, shellfish, deer, elk--if it was hunt-able or catch-able, it usually ended up on the table.
  4. They saved everything--from balls of yarn and wrapping paper to old appliances "just in case".
  5. They shopped garage sales.
  6. If they did need to go to the store, it was either for "loss leader" sale items or they went to the 5 and Dime (kind of like Dollar Stores today), never department stores.
  7. They went were there was work. I can't even list all of the jobs they had between the two of them but if there was work to be had, they did it. I remember going to CCC reunion picnics into the 1980's--this was a huge depression-era work program which my grandfather joined when there was no other work to do.
  8. Entertainment was done at home with whatever was available--chess, checkers, Monopoly, making forts out of blankets, making tree forts, playing music, etc.
  9. They had no debts. Credit cards weren't available then and they never took out a loan from the bank.
  10. They lived below their means--they always had cash on hand and never spent all of the money they had because they didn't know when there would be more money to be had.
  11. They paid cash for their land and house. They started with a tiny piece of land and a house that was ready to fall over and then made improvements as money and materials were available. They sold that house and bought something a bit better and bigger with cash of course. They ended up in their sixties with a beautiful home on acreage (note that they didn't buy this in their 20's the way many people do these days).
  12. If something wasn't broke they didn't replace it. Grandma had a refrigerator that rumbled and shook with each cycle--it was from the early '40s and still worked until she died in the '90s.
  13. They worked when they needed to work but I also remember many lazy summer days spent on a blanket under a huge tree in their yard--relaxation was also important.
  14. Hand-me-downs were the rule. The oldest kid got clothes from thrift stores and garage sales then they were passed down to the next kid and the next.
  15. They were always welcoming company to their home. Friends and relatives regularly stopped by and grandma always had fresh-baked deserts on hand.
  16. They were very giving. If a family came to their U-pick farm and looked like they couldn't afford much, they didn't charge them much and would often throw in other things from their garden to help them out.
  17. Health was important--farm fresh food, not processed stuff, outdoor activities such as camping/archery/swimming, and good old fashioned care such as chicken soup and staying in bed when you were coming down with a cold was what kept the entire family quite healthy into their old age.
  18. Work was done with a positive, happy attitude. Whether it was repairing the house, canning fruit and vegetables, or weeding the garden, it was looked on as a way to help the family and as a part of life, not a huge chore that people tried to avoid.
  19. They had a way of acquiring interesting things--plant starts from friends, interesting rocks that decorated their yard from the mountains, books on every imaginable topic--for free or very cheap.
  20. They made do with what they had. If we didn't have gloves and it was snowing, we used grandpa's big wool socks on our hands--they served the same purpose and saved money too.
  21. Grandpa was a deal maker. Trading, bartering, asking for a better deal--if there was a good deal to be had, he was all over it.
  22. They worked together and worked things out when there were problems. Back then people didn't get divorced over every little thing. Plus the house was so small everyone pretty much had to get along because you couldn't get away from each other, especially during the winter when we were all in the living room (the only warm room in the house) in front of the wood stove.
  23. Food never went bad--left overs were always eaten the next day or turned into something new (ie: salmon for dinner, salmon soup for lunch the next day, salmon cakes for dinner, and the cats got the bones).
  24. Grandpa never invested in the stock market, he liked tangible things--land, animals, firearms, guitars, tools, etc.
  25. They developed many sale-able skills. Grandma could cook, bake, sew, can, take care of kids, etc. Grandpa could weld, tame horses, work the land, put on events (dances, music events, etc).


  1. Hope ya don't mind... I'm sending people this way. http://justwanderingthrough.blogspot.com/2008/10/ok-im-not-survivalist.html

    And you don't have to post this but I couldn't find your email!

  2. Very educational to say the least. I know a number of folks who saw the great depression and lived through it. these things you described were all common sense to them. I only hope I have learned enough from them to pass enough on to help others if things get as bad as back then.

  3. I believe we are heading toward an economic disaster so thanks for this post. We will need to remember these stories as we face an even worse economic future.