An Inspiring Comment From a Reader

by Katy on June 24, 2009 · 9 comments

This comment in response to Now is Not The Worst Hard Times just came in, and it’s so moving and inspiring that I wanted to share it with everyone.  Next time you’re feeling deprived, think about how others have lived in the past, and how others still live in many parts of the world.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Mother of Pearl Clam

My 91 year old Grandma lived through the Depression in rural Illinois (not the Dust Bowl area).

She talks of how her father would catch squirrels in the fields, clean them, and her mother would cook them with dandelion leaves. Her dad would eat the brains, which she always thought was disgusting, and he always said he loved. It didn’t dawn on her until later in life that he was trying to give his children the good parts and would sacrifice eating the bad (i.e. gross) parts in order to survive.

She also told me that the men did anything to make money. Her family lived near a river, and (after he lost his job) he would dive for clams, shuck the shells and sell them to the button factory to make mother-of-pearl buttons. The clam meat was not edible, otherwise they would have eaten those as well, so she says. Each man in the area had staked claim to a river bank area. He would get into fist fights with other men in order to protect ‘his clam territory’ on the river.

She always talks about how she desperately wanted a pair of shoes. That was really the only heartache she felt when she was young, she says. She said that although life was tough, it was not bad. The family would go around the room and every family member would recount what they were thankful for, which helped them remember that they will get through it.

She always says that the bigger cities (like Chicago and Rockford) were feeling the Depression much worse, as those areas had a more dense population of people to feed, and not enough land to live off of the resources. Fortunately, her family lived in a rural area, where people did favors for food and such.

It’s always interesting to hear her talk about that portion of her life. She’s so matter-of-fact about it. It’s definitely something to learn from.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Meg from FruWiki June 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I always find Depression stories interesting — but I’m perhaps less surprised by the extents to which people went to survive, having grown up in a poor, rural county. Some people there still do get a lot of their food from the land, whether through hunting, fishing, small-scale farming/gardening, foraging, etc. And some would — and do — miss meals without that food. My mom was certainly resourceful when she was raising my three older siblings. And I know plenty of people who can tell you the best way to cook a squirrel.

I wonder, though, what her dad actually thought about the squirrel brain. We might think it’s disgusting, but in some parts of the country it is still a delicacy — though we now know that it comes with risks (See: And while she probably wouldn’t want to eat a dandelion ever again, I think it is funny that our local “health nut” grocery store sells organic dandelion greens — and not for cheap, either.

As for me, I’m glad I don’t have to eat squirrel — not that I’d have a problem eating it, so much as killing and gutting. I rather like watching our backyard squirrels and the closest I’d like to get to raising animals for food is our backyard chickens we keep strictly for eggs. But I do like foraging a bit for tasty edibles. Even though I don’t need to, it’s a fun activity and it’s nice to know that I could find at least some food if I had to.


tryingtolivesimply June 24, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for posting! I always love listening to her speak on the topic. It reminds me to count my blessings, and that things are not as bad as they could be.


Jeanne June 25, 2009 at 5:02 am

Thanks for the reminder. My grandfather died at the start of the Depression, leaving my grandma without any money. She was also handicapped and in a wheelchair. She and my mom and aunts took in boarders to make ends meet. They all slept in my grandma’s room and rented out the rest of the house. They used to tell stories about that time. Thanks for the reminder that no matter how ‘bad’ it gets for us now, it isn’t half as bad as it was during the Depression. And no matter what, if you have family, friends and your health, you are the luckiest person on Earth.


Jenn Baron June 25, 2009 at 7:17 am

I do not listen to the new much because of their habit of making things much worse than they are. I fully realize that many families are struggling and I also feel that “this current economic situation” is a chance for us all to rethink our “needs vs. wants,” take a look at other sources of possible income and mostly, how blessed we all are and that we should reach out and help others who are less fortunate than ourselves.

Count your blessings and be a blessing for others.


Nancy from Mass June 25, 2009 at 7:24 am

My Mom was born in 1928. she had an older sister with cerebral palsy (that just died a month ago at the age of 82) and later, had a younger sister and brother. things became so bad during the depression, that her and her younger siblings were put in an orphanage for a few months until my grandparents could afford to bring them back home and feed them. this actually happened a few different times. since my uncle only had older sisters, he actually wore their handmedown dresses until he was 3 or 4 since his parents couldnt get a hold of boy clothes. we were raised in a ‘use it up until it can no longer be mended’ household.


'Aunt Amelia' June 25, 2009 at 8:25 am

A wonderful lesson, to be learned. Thank you for sharing this with us.

‘Aunt Amelia’
‘Dear you,’ blog…
‘Aunt Amelia’s Attic’ blog…


Linda June 25, 2009 at 1:35 pm

My gramma also grew up during the depression here in Southern California & I remember lots of the stories she would tell. I wish I had taken the time to write them down or have her tell me on video as she now has Alzheimers & so much is gone forever now. One of the things her family did was that her mom would make dounuts & Gramma & her little brother would have to peddle them around town. Whatever they couldn’t sell would become the family meal supplemented by a small vegetable garden in their yard. To this day she can not tolerate the taste of dounuts.

Thank you for this post. Makes one rethink the phrase “I’m hungry” doesn’t it?


foo June 25, 2009 at 5:14 pm

When my parents married, my dad asked Mom to cook some foods she’d never heard of. She asked her new mother-in-law about these dishes, only to discover they were Depression dishes that the MIL had made to stretch the food out – like cabbage soup (NOT cream of cabbage! Just cabbage cooked in water!) and such. Mom thanked her stars then that she’d grown up in a rural area so that during the Depression there wasn’t as much worry about food. You could at least grow all the potatoes you could eat – oh boy did she hate potatoes for years afterwards!


Meg from FruWiki June 25, 2009 at 5:50 pm


That’s a great story! I actually LOVE cabbage soup, but I add a bit of soy sauce and hot sauce to the water. Love the taters, too, but Amish butter & great cheeses help. Not sure I’d like either so much plain!


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