Living on the West End: The 1930s
Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a Bill Shepard column published last year.
By Bill Shepard
The 1930s were trying years, not only in America, but around the world! Most of the world was trying to free itself from the stranglehold that the war had on them. World War I had ended in 1918. Wars are costly and wars end, but the cost of wars continues on!
Presidents Coolidge and Harding had wrestled with America’s problems but with little success. Herbert Hoover followed both of them but things only got worse! Then came the crash of the stock market in 1929 and that led to the Great Depression that all but brought this nation to its knees!
Hoover carried the blame for America’s poor recovery during those trying times. The Republican Party as a whole suffered greatly from Hoover’s inability to bring some kind of end to the nation’s problems. This writer was too young to remember anything about Coolidge and Harding’s terms in office, but he remembers very vividly what happened during Hoover’s term. I’ll share one or two of the stories I recall hearing …
A man is seen wearing his arm in a sling. “What’s the matter with your arm?” a man asks. “I broke it,” the poor fellow replies. “And how did you break it?” The man with the broken arm replies, “I broke it while eating breakfast!” “And how did that happen?” the other man asks. He says, “I fell out of the persimmon tree!”
One man said Hoover was the greatest president we ever had. The reason: “President Hoover made rabbit taste just as good in August as it did in November.” I listened to a lot of tales told about Hoover during my youthful years.
President Roosevelt was next to tackle the challenge of getting the nation back on its feet, and he set forth a number of programs to do the job. Some readers will remember the WPA, PWA, CC Camps and others. Those programs seemed to help.
My dad worked some days on the WPA when the mill where he was employed would close for a few days for lack of orders. The WPA workers were paid a small amount for a day’s work. Sometimes the government would have certain commodities on hand to give to the workers. I can recall a few times when we were given a large bag of plain flour. When that would happen, Mama would send me to the store to buy a can of Calumet baking powder. I remember the picture of an Indian on the side of the can. That can of baking powder cost 5 cents.
A number of national, state and community parks were built by the WPA workers. St. John’s first high school gymnasium was built by workers of the program, also the old National Guard Armory. That building is now the Harmon Baldwin Building. Always when I return to Darlington to visit, I tour the beautiful Williamson Park. That visit always brings to mind the times I watched workers of the WPA carving that park from the wilderness along Swift Creek.
Slowly, as that harsh period crept by, the various programs seemed to be working. I was blessed to have a mother and dad who had known how to face adversities. The hardships that some experienced during those Depression years did not show much difference in our way of living.
I had the same number of meals each day, wore the same kind of clothing, and of course, lived in the same kind of house. Dad planted a large vegetable garden each year and raised two fat hogs! One was butchered on Thanksgiving Day and another at Christmas! Mama sewed our clothes from cloth purchased at the Company Store. With the scraps left from sewing our clothes, she saved until she had enough and sewed the quilts helped keep us warm when the winter came. We probably would not have known we had lived through the Great Depression if we had not been told!
Some of the best memories of my life were made during those years I have been writing about. Tired from working hard at the mill and then returning home to work in the garden, or the pig pen, when the day would finally end, the family would gather around the little Stewart Warner radio and listen to Amos and Andy or Sam and Abner down at the Jot ’Em Down Store in Pine Ridge. Am I stirring any readers’ memories?
As the 1930s were reaching toward the end, rumblings of war began to sound again. In September 1939, a man whose name most of the world had never heard – Hitler, chancellor of Germany – moved with his massive army against his small neighboring country. Within days, Poland fell. Though the rest of the world did not believe it, World War II had begun. Another year and the 1930s would end!