Remembering The Great Depression: Big treat: Biscuits and gravy
To mark the 80th anniversary of the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression, The Union is running these excerpts of memoirs from Nevada County residents who lived through that time. This is the last of two parts.
Justine Kutchar, Grass Valley:
My dad worked in a coal mine in Energy, Ill., and it shut down. We had no money to buy food, so Dad stood in line with a gunny sack for it to be filled with rations of flour, beans and rice. It didn’t last long for a family of five.
We all went to visit Mom’s parents, and Grandma said, “Dora, could you use some baking powder? Your father bought some, and we already had some.” So we had a real treat that night – biscuits and gravy.
One day Dad said to Mom, “If I had some poison, I would poison the girls, then you and me, but I don’t have 10 cents for the poison.” Mom told me there was no way he would poison us girls.
We came out to Nevada City in 1935, where there was no Depression.
I grew up in the Depression in Branson, Mo.
We lived on a farm and raised milk cows, chickens and pigs. We raised hay and grain for winter livestock food. We also raised a large garden, and Mom would can the vegetables. The potatoes and turnips we stored in the basement.
Dad worked for $1 a day.
Mom did all the laundry outside in a tub heated on an outside fire. The clothes were dried on a clothes line and brought in at night. The next day, mom would iron the clothes with a heavy iron heated on the wood cook stove.
The only things purchased in the store were sacks of flour and sugar. Mom always baked bread. We always took a sandwich to school for lunch; we would share with the kids that did not have food.
In those days, a nickel was a lot of money for us kids. We could buy a candy for a penny.
Our life did not change until the war started in 1941.
MJF, Grass Valley
What was instilled in us and we continue to live by:
“Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Suzanne Hanson, Grass Valley
I grew up on Parnassus Avenue, in Berkeley.
I learned to eat things like stewed kidneys, sweetbreads and tripe – all those things they were throwing away. I couldn’t get past the tripe.
We couldn’t afford fresh milk, and my mother tried to water down the canned milk. To this day, I can’t drink evaporated milk.
We got one new pair of shoes every two years. We had no money to repair them, so when they wore out, we put cardboard in the bottom.
Jean McIntyre Geoffroy,
The railroad ran through the hills not far from our home in Pennsylvania. Men who were riding the rails from town to town seeking work would knock on our kitchen door asking for food or a glass of water.
My mother, a young widow with three small children, never refused them, managing to put a sandwich or plate of leftovers together.
These men had been office or construction workers, even teachers. One was a barber who offered to cut our hair in exchange for food, and we kids looked as if he had placed a bowl over our heads and cut around it.
Some of my schoolmates would make do with ketchup sandwiches.
Few families owned telephones. Long-distance calls were solemn events reserved for emergencies.
A family gathering often featured everyone singing or playing an instrument. There were Saturday night dances at the firehouse to the music of the jukebox.
Children played hopscotch with an old heel, picked huckleberries, roamed the hills or climbed trees in summer; and played board games or jacks on the oilcloth-covered kitchen table and went sledding in winter.
We used to wonder how my grandmother’s house stayed warm and cozy all winter until we discovered the landlord had tunneled under the house and had a still producing moonshine.
Doris Salter, Nevada County
I recall the terrible sense of fear and silence in our house the day my Dad came home early from his job building Transcontinental Highway 1 across Canada because the government had shut it down.
We lived in a small town in midwestern Canada. In winter, Dad and my brothers drove out onto Lake Winnipeg, cut a hole in the ice, scooped out whitefish and dumped them into the box he built outside our door, “God’s freezer.” We survived on fish most winters.
My brothers went out at night and gathered spilled wheat, oats and barley at the grainary. These were ground up for breakfast or snacks.
Summers were easier, with Mother’s huge garden. Mother made jelly sandwiches for Sunday picnics, and we would roam through the bush and pick strawberries and saskatoons – half the size of blueberries and quite tart.
With eight children to raise, Mother’s psychology was the back of her hand or a piece of kindling on our butt.
Mary Kutchar Abbott,
My parents were immigrants born in Austria. My father worked in the coal mines in Cle Elam, Wash., but saved his money for another mining adventure.
I was 6 and clearly remember the train ride to Auburn, sleeping in a Pullman car with my mother and sister, and stepping out onto the wooden deck at Auburn.
We moved to an old house on Mill Street, Grass Valley. It had bed bugs in the wooden beds, which Mom washed down with Lysol.
Dad started the Sunrise Mine, investing $5,000 with two brothers on old Auburn Road, but the money ran out, the mine was closed and we were left high and dry.
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