I’m grateful I was born in the age before computers and cellphones were our constant companions. Playing games outside, creating plays with friends just for fun and sleeping out in the backyard with my sister are precious memories that fill my heart with joy. I can never forget our annual family vacations to Cape Cod.
While my family lived frugally but well, just a generation ago my grandparents’ lives told a different tale, as they and countless others struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The prudence of my parents didn’t always make sense to me — but their axioms revealed the reality of their experience. “Waste not want not; A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; A penny saved is a penny earned; A stitch in time saves nine; An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” were just some of the sayings my generation grew up with.
My family recycled and reused before it was a popular thing to do. We saved the linings of cereal boxes to use as wax paper, old cloth diapers were used as dust rags, and our telephone table was a large wallpapered Amway soap container. We composted. My dad carpooled. I never thought that our lives lacked in any way.
We now live in a fast-paced, technologically advanced society, but during the Great Depression, life wasn’t so fancy.
Most people didn’t own cars, food was limited, families lived together, jobs were very scarce, and 10 cents paid for your seat at the movies.People grew vegetable gardens and shared with friends and relatives; there were long unemployment lines and numerous soup kitchens. People made do because they had to, and that meant radically reducing their standards of living and taking any job available at any wage.
But my family recounted that they were happy with simple pleasures such as going to dances, because everyone they knew was in the same boat, so there was no pettiness or jealousy. People went to church on Sunday to thank God for the little they did have.
A story that sticks with me is that of my grandfather’s sacrifice. One Easter my mom didn’t have appropriate shoes to wear to church. Grandpa used his week’s bus money of $1 to buy her patent leather shoes and subsequently had to walk to and from work, most certainly a long, cold hike.
Church attendance was an activity that used to be valued more than it is today. It was the norm that people dressed up for church out of a sense of respect and gratitude. If you didn’t have the appropriate clothes, you didn’t go. The story goes that while my grandfather took my mom and her brother to church that Easter, my grandmother stayed home, most probably because she lacked the right attire.
Today with the “merit of the age,” most of us do not even have to get up to change our television channels. The average size of the American house has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years. We can buy almost any food we want any time. Everyone has a washer and dryer or access to one.
What would it be like if an event like the Great Depression happened today? If it would happen again, I hope that we would rebound as our grandparents and great-grandparents did. It is important to be familiar with relatively recent history, how people bore hardships with courage and faith in working through the difficulties. Speaking with elders who went through these hard times is one way to learn these things first-hand. Listening to their stories has certainly helped me and I hope that as a result I am better prepared to face life’s challenges and keep my faith in God.
Deanna Cooper is the pastor at Kodiak Family Church (Unification Church).