Geezers remember the Great Depression

Published 2:52 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

Max Jolley first observed that he was born in the Depression and never got over it. It was pretty much downhill from there . . .I told them I wanted more than the standard walk of five miles in deep snow to school, and Frank Price added &dquo;uphill both ways!&dquo; Barefoot, of course, which led to tales of torn nails on the big toe and stone bruised soles. I mentioned hearing that squeezing the mud in puddles up through the toes would cause &dquo;toe itch,&dquo; and George Price added that doing the same thing in a cow patty would cure it. A fresh one, that is (still warm and soft) . . .dried ones served as our first Frisbees!

Glenn Burgess had a bunch of rabbit gums (boxes to trap them) and got 15 cents each for the rabbits at a store. He skinned them, but left one foot covered to prove that it was not a cat. Vernon Moss sold his gutted rabbits to Walt Russell at Walker&squo;s store for 20 cents each, but later got 25 cents at Soumerco (abbreviated name for the Southern Mercerizing Company near present-day McFarland&squo;s Funeral Chapel) for dressed ones. Some boys carried a rabbit&squo;s foot for good luck.

Many people ate squirrel and dumplings or gravy, but no one had heard of rabbit gravy. Everyone made and used slingshots, but did not kill the small game with them. George observed that it was better to shoot a squirrel in the head with a .22 than to pepper it with a shotgun! Vernon used the fragments of iron from making horse shoes in his slingshot, but most collected small stones. Some used marbles or steel balls from bearings for target practice, always retrieved for re-use.

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Of course the larger bearing balls made killer shooters for the marble games played incessantly in rings inscribed in the dirt of the school grounds. Many marbles were lost in trying to drop them from waist high through a small hole cut into the top of a cigar box. (Guess the guys who could do that became the bombardiers of WWII.) Marbles were carried in tobacco sacks; other treasures went to school in tobacco tins.

Frank Price told of using drink bottle caps to decorate his shirts: remove the cork, place the cap on the shirt, then press the cork back into the cap from the back. Lucky Strike cigarettes were 15 cents a pack, but Wings were only a dime, and had pictures of airplanes in them, according to Frank. I remember the cry that went up when &dquo;light bread&dquo; went from a dime to 11 cents a loaf in 1939.

The women on farms canned everything during growing season, mostly in half gallon jars to feed large families. Mama Rippy lost dozens of jars of green beans and even sausage when their house burned in 1938. Jack Jolley remembers going out into the woods to cut firewood and having to beat a hasty retreat when they found a still. The only part of the house heated was where the fireplace or stove was . . . he remembers frost on the inside of his bedroom windows, and waking to find snow on his bed. He also said most lived in a house with &dquo;three rooms and path,&dquo; not &dquo;three rooms and bath.&dquo;

Jack said that his brother Willard had a Grit newspaper route. The paper cost him 3 cents and he got a nickel for them, so he made 2 cents on each. He gave the route to Jack when he discovered that he could get 50 cents for going to a store to buy Bay Rum (after shave) and delivering it to a man, for whom it was cheaper than moonshine. Jack earned a pocket watch as prize from Grit, lost it, plowed it up a year later, and it was still running. Gotta watch what these Geezers tell you!

Glenn said that his father had a Western Auto radio set that he ran off a car battery. He removed the knobs and hid them so that the kids would not play the radio during the week and run the battery down. They all (including some neighbors!) gathered around the set and listened to the Grand Ol&squo; Opry on Saturday night.

Rat killin&squo; was almost a game for Glenn . . . the boys would beat them with sticks when the rats ran out from under the corn stacks or the crib. We both hated pulling fodder, mainly because of the inevitable stings from pack saddle caterpillars. That burned like fire for a long time, worse than a yellow jacket sting. These recollections of a very different time may help younger people understand us older folks, but probably not. They have no basis for such understanding, since most could not survive without money. I&squo;ll not write any more today. I&squo;ll just let y&squo;all get back to your rat killin.&squo;