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

AP
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner partially vetoed the Heroin Crisis Act, which would have cleared the way for Medicaid to fund addiction treatments.
 

Getty Images
September 2, 2015 | NPR · An assessment of police response to the demonstrations there calls into question strategies like the overwatch tactic, with officers using rifle sights to survey the crowd from atop tactical vehicles.
 

AP
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, also played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
 

Arts & Life

AP
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, also played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
 

Getty Images
September 2, 2015 | FA · Steve Silberman talks about how Nazi extermination plans and a discredited scientific paper about childhood vaccines shaped our current understanding of autism.
 

NPR
September 2, 2015 | FA · Jonathan Franzen weaves together a cavalcade of stories and characters in his latest novel. Critic Maureen Corrigan says that despite its breadth, Purity fails to “emotionally move the reader.”
 

Music

Courtesy of the artist
September 2, 2015 | NPR · “There’s a beautiful, kind of seductive trap in being autobiographical in our writing of songs: We just get stuck in our own syrup,” says the soul artist.
 

YouTube
September 2, 2015 | NPR · “Wildest Dreams” depicts a love story set in Africa, circa 1950, the director notes. It did not have a political agenda, and did have people of color in front of the camera and on the creative team.
 

Youtube
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Dreams and nightmares coexist in beautiful and haunting ways in this Icelandic singer’s latest video.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab