After my grandmother died last month I had the somewhat daunting task of listening to and editing over 5 hours of interviews my mother conducted with her a decade ago. Along with the many familiar personal and family stories she told, I was also riveted by her many short accounts of life as a young woman during the Great Depression. While some of it sounds like the old joke, “We were so poor that…”, well, they were really that poor! Each vignette, though seldom longer than a minute, manages to paint a stark and vivid portrait of the times sure to make you grateful that The Great Recession hasn’t receded any further. Far from beaten down by her experiences, my grandmother remained an optimistic (if not understandably neurotic) and joyful woman who knew how to grab hold of a good time when it came her way.

Aspirations

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Babysitting

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Butter, Bologna and Bread

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Church as Entertainment

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Clothes

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

College

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Didn’t Have Toys

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Didn’t Have Friends Over

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

First Supermarket

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Friend with Painted Shoes

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Heat and Coal

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Ice Delivery

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Laundry

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Milk from Farm

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Mortgage on Furniture

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Movies 10 Cents

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Never Took Vacation

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

No Bedtime Story

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

No Playing with Parents

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

No Birthday

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Parent Health Problems

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Penny Candy

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Potatoes and Chicken

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Radio

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Rug beaters

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Smoking Cubettes

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Story About the Dollar

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Teachers

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Too Proud to Take Coat

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Vegetables During the Depression

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Visiting a Farm

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Wallpaper Cleaner

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Xmas

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

9 Responses to We Were So Poor…

  1. Nancy Wilsted says:

    Oh, that little Mama!

    As a child I used to cry myself to sleep over the pink-centered candy. I wanted my mom to have the prize she never won. My pillow would be so wet, I would have to turn it over.

    As the youngest of four, Mom (Bobbie) took a lot of teasing. She was tough, but there was one way her siblings could always get her to cry. They would insist that, unlike the others, Bobbie had not been born – she had been found in a cow pie.

    Mom said that during the worst of the depression, she and her best friend, Shirley Bannon, were invited to a birthday party for the banker’s daughter. They were so entranced by the cake that they positioned themselves underneath the cake table. The table cloth hid the two girls as they stealthily reached up for fingers full of icing. The banker’s wife caught them and sent them home. No cake for Mom and Shirley, needless to say. I asked Mom if she and Shirley felt terrible about it. “Oh, no!” she said. “We thought it was funny and laughed all the way home”.

    Sounds like and episode of Little Rascals, doesn’t it?

    • Ruth Adele says:

      Nancy, I’m so sorry to hear that your mom died, and Noel’s grandma, and the boys’ great grandma. I’m glad you thought to get these stories from her to treasure forever! During this recession I’ve been thinking so much about my relatives in the Great Depression. It’s amazing hearing these first hand stories. Good job, as usual, Noel! Love to all of you, Ruth

    • Janet Conover says:

      Oh Nancy,
      I didn’t know you had lost your Mom. You had a heck of a year! I didn’t know your connection to KRCC.
      See you soon.
      Janet

  2. Sean says:

    Now I’ll picture your grandmother sitting next to the prettiest cake!

  3. Carol says:

    What treasures these conversations are! Thank you so much for sharing these sweet vignettes.

  4. Brenda says:

    fabulous- my “aunt edna’ used to bemoan the old days- now I know she probably was telling the truth about how tough it was…

  5. joyce cheney says:

    Noel and Nancy,
    What a gift to your family (and the rest of us) to have saved your mom’s stories.

  6. Jan McMillan says:

    Annie and I just said goodbye to my ex-husband and father of my 5 children. After we’ve said goodbye to the last family members who have traveled here to attend Larry’s memorial, we will sit down together and listen to these wonderful stories that Nancy was wise enough to record. What a wonderful gift to Noel and his family and to all of us who were so blessed by Barb’s life. Thanks Nancy and Noel!

News

March 3, 2015 | NPR · Former Gen. David Petraeus, whose military career has been overshadowed by charges that he provided classified data to his lover, will avoid a trial.
 

March 3, 2015 | NPR · The complicated story behind the simple repetitive wordplay jest.
 

Reuters /Landov
March 3, 2015 | NPR · The volcano spewed heavy smoke into the air and lava down its slopes, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people in southern Chile.
 

Arts & Life

Courtesy of Doubleday
March 3, 2015 | NPR · Hell is actually a bureaucracy in Simon Kurt Unsworth’s debut novel. Reviewer Jason Heller says the tale of a demonic murder investigation starts strong but gets mired in the details of infernal life.
 

March 3, 2015 | NPR · Writer Sarah Manguso has been a compulsive diarist since childhood; her new memoir documents the ways motherhood has changed her writing. Critic Heller McAlpin says it’s full of lovely observations.
 

Getty Images
March 3, 2015 | NPR · The game Charles Darrow sold in the 1930s bore a striking resemblance to a game Lizzie Magie patented in 1904. In The Monopolists, Mary Pilon tells Monopoly’s origin story.
 

Music

Courtesy of the artists
March 3, 2015 | NPR · Our opening night party in Austin — one of the highlights of our year — will feature a genre-spanning lineup that also includes up-and-comers Shamir and Boogie.
 

Redferns via Getty Images
March 3, 2015 | NPR · Download 100 songs by artists to discover at the 2015 SXSW Music Festival.
 

WGBH
March 3, 2015 | WGBH · Watch the British alt-rock band perform “Gethsemane” live in Boston.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab