Historically Speaking: Depression fears
In light of the recent surge of terror attacks throughout the world, putting fear on the faces of many, I can’t help but go back in time to the Great Depression era and the type of fears that enveloped young and old at that time.
Living in the rural area and on a farm, one of our constant fears was that of storms, droughts and severe weather conditions…acts of God that we could not predict nor prevent. In the 1930s during the summer months, the drought was so severe that grasshoppers ate every blade of grass and leaves of vegetables and trees, and we did not have a good garden crop for that winter. We carried many buckets of water from the river to the garden area to try and save the plants. I suppose it did help somewhat, but what we needed was rain, and for weeks upon weeks it did not rain.
The Great Plains states were having bad dust storms, and even up here in northern Wisconsin the sun was a hazy light in a dust-filled sky. And when the rains did finally come, the torrents were so fast and furious that the moisture did not truly sink into the ground readily. The rains were usually accompanied by very large hail and strong winds; and many homes lost windows and roofing, not to mention the additional damage to the poor struggling gardens and field crops. We were certainly at the mercy of the weather conditions, as we are yet today…but the old-timers say that the ‘30s had some of the most unusual weather conditions ever heard of, but we survived! In the morning I would look into the sky for hopeful signs that it was going to be a good day. If the sky was blue and bright I had a great day!
Another fear I had, and I’m sure many others had, was the fact that there was no money available. The banks had failed and people were hurting for cash to buy necessities. In a good season we had a good life, growing most of our needed food right on the farm. But in the summer of ’34 it became necessary to apply for relief through the courthouse in town. I don’t remember the early details of applying for assistance, but I do remember the visits of the relief worker who came periodically to check on us.
My mother would be crying in the morning, and then I knew that this “nice lady” would be coming that day. My parents had always made it through circumstances by themselves, and this situation of needing someone else to help with food and everyday needs must have been very difficult for all hard-working people in those days. I don’t remember the name of the caseworker, except that she was always so sweet and kind to my mother and to us kids, too. I do wish I could thank her today for those past kindnesses; we were on relief for only that summer, and then things picked up a bit. In the summer of 1935 my brother who was then almost 18 years old, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a check for $25 was sent home to help with expenses. He was paid $30 per month; the government sent us $25 and he had the rest for spending money each month. It was a good program, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Another fear was the scare about the kidnapping of the little boy of Charles Lindbergh – I was old enough to read the papers, and I followed this incident until the end. I guess I didn’t realize that no one would bother to kidnap me, as my folks did not have money to pay ransom. But it bothered me, and during the whole long incident I was very fearful. This was the time that the gangster John Dillinger was cavorting around the Northwoods in Wisconsin (He actually “borrowed” the Ford V8 of my teacher’s husband, Izzy Tuchalski), and until he was shot in Chicago at a later date, I expected Dillinger to be peeking out from behind every tree as I walked home from school. It was a real fear, but in a way an adventure, because of the fact that someone I knew had a part in this scary scenario.
As I mentioned before, we did not go hungry, as some families did, but there were no new clothes or fancy foods; only the necessities.
As a child or an adult, whether years ago or at the present time, fears are very real. Following the events of September 11, 2001 and the “war on terrorists” here in America, one of our greatest fears was the possible invasion of our own country right where we live. Whether it was biological or chemical warfare or planes seeping into our skies, it all seemed a possibility. Years ago we heard a lot about “bomb shelters,” but that was when the atomic bomb scare was rampant. We have not had war within our country since the Civil War between the North and the South.
I would really be amiss if I gave the impression that our fears of years ago were more real than those of today, and I would be a pessimist if I even hinted that today’s many fears are more important and greater than past fears. We have lived through our past fears, but the future is ahead and is yet to be lived with confidence and trust that America will overcome.