A new generation learns the hard way

Does the word “relief” bring anything special to your mind except a slogan for an anti-acid?

Probably not, unless you grew up in the Great Depression, and there are getting to be fewer of us as the years fly by.

“Relief” was a government program to assist jobless families whose savings were gone, whose homes had been lost, who staunchly resisted the disgraceful act of bankruptcy — and in those days, that was the very last straw, to be avoided like the plague.

How times have changed.

It comes to mind, these days, as foreclosures and bankruptcies increase as do all the other woes of a recession.

It reminds us that there are ways of surviving, and some of us can recall them only too vividly.

There was

There was a family in our village whose straits were so dire that not all of their five daughters could go to school every day because there weren’t enough clothes to go around. They had to take turns.

There was the importance of earning as little as a dime for mowing someone’s lawn or shoveling someone’s snow. Earning 25 cents an hour after school by working at the corner grocery store was cause for celebration.

There was “remodeling” a hand-me-down man’s overcoat into a go-to-school coat for an adolescent daughter.

There was getting your shoes half-soled and having cleats put on your shoes’ heels to keep them from wearing down so fast. Shoes were never discarded.

There was mending “ladders” in the ugly lisle stockings and mending holes in socks using a darning egg.

There was having second-hand schoolbooks which were cheaper than new, and covering them with brown paper to keep them clean so they could be re-sold at the end of the year.

Gardens? Oh yes, huge vegetable gardens, and summers spent canning and otherwise “putting by.”

There was excitement at receiving a box of second-hand clothes from a relative who was better off and could share.

There was turning the worn cuffs and collars of the breadwinner’s shirts instead of buying new ones.

There was having lots of homemade vegetable soup and fried bologna for supper and stretching sauerkraut by putting it over mashed potatoes and saving bread wrappers to use as wax paper and picking wild blackberries and gathering fallen apples.

Dessert might be biscuits dipped in honey, or there could be no dessert.

Had enough?

We survived

Yes, times were terribly tough and even though we children didn’t know how tough, we wonder how our parents managed.

We were never told we were “poor” and we never went on “relief,” but many of our friends’ families did.

And we didn’t mind that there was always a hand-out for a hungry passerby who would pay for it by weeding the garden or other chore.

Yes, we survived, and actually are better off for the adversity. The lessons we were taught have stood us in good stead, and we are still learning.

Let us hope others are also learning how to survive.

* * *

That’s not what I intended this column to be about, but it just sort of happened! I meant to ask you if you ever heard of the “green apple quick-step?” I think of it every morning when Toby can hardly wait to trot back to the apple tree in the pasture, and even with his grazing muzzle, he’s learned how to roll the little green apples into the hose in the bottom!

The deer have also found the apples, and one morning, there were twin fawns who couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, according to their size.

* * *

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you they will be there long before any of us.” Amen, I say.

No sooner had I put this column in the mail than the telephone rang, and it was dear Judy in tears after having just had to put her beloved 14-year-old dog, Homer, to sleep. It was unexpected, and she was still in shock. Homer was a basset blend, who had been abandoned on Judy’s road when he was about a year old, and had immediately moved into her heart and home.

She and Roy will feel that emptiness for a long time.

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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