Now Is Not "The Worst Hard Times"

by Katy on November 23, 2008 · 14 comments




Times are hard now. There’s no debating this fact.

As an RN, my job is pretty much recession proof. But that doesn’t mean that my retirement is doing better than anyone else’s. Or that food prices aren’t shockingly high.

We are in a recession, and the media keeps making comparisons to the great depression of the 1930’s. 

But there’s one big difference between now and 80 years ago — the great dust bowl.

The great dust bowl of the American west will forever be entwined with the abject poverty of the depression. The mile high dirt filled clouds that swept through towns and country, demolishing both crops and dreams.

I’m currently reading an excellent book called, “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” by Timothy Egan.

This gripping book follows the stories of a few families through the homesteading of Texas and Oklahoma in the early 20th century through the dust bowl. Before this, my knowledge of this disastrous time in America’s history was pretty much limited to a single high school reading of “The Grapes of Wrath.” 

Trolling through the internet, I found the wonderful Dust Bowl Oral History Project out of Ford county, Kansas. Transcribed interviews with people who had lived through these times proved fascinating and riveting.

Tales of never ending grit and dirt that frustrated women fighting a daily losing battle against the dusters. The impossible goal to keep a clean house, despite the dust that seeped through every available crack. Memories of how they would cut worn-out sheets down the middle to transform the center into the outer part. Stories of dried out crops buried in sand and blowing silt. Death by “dust pneumonia.”

In answer to the question about “the greatest lesson learned” from the great depression, one woman answered:

“I learned how to do things, how to make things work, how to use things, how to appreciate things. Don’t throw anything away. I think, I had to know how to do things, know how to cope.”

The stories are heartbreaking, yet inspiring. 

So I will not let myself compare our current economic crisis to the great depression.

I’ve got a good job, ability to live well on very little money, and fresh air to breathe.

Have you grown up hearing stories of how your parents or grandparents survived the great depression? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian November 23, 2008 at 2:18 am

The one story I remember my grandmother telling was of her first xmas with my grandfather in 1936. They were both 20, living in Phoenix, having moved there from Nebraska, because my grandfather got a job picking lettuce.

Grandpa had saved enough money to buy Grandma a new skillet for xmas. While he was in the lettuce fields, on xmas day, she cooked up a slice of bologna in the skillet for her xmas feast. Merry Xmas.


Amy November 23, 2008 at 7:21 am

Ok, thank you so much for posting this. I am really tired of hearing how this recession is so much like the Great Depression…and its soooo not. We watched something on the dust bowl on the history channel the other night (Black Blizzard, maybe?) and it was absolutely fascinating. I’m thinking that if I lived through that and were still alive and here to hear people comparing right now to back then, I’d be horrifically offended.


Mary C November 23, 2008 at 8:53 am

My grandparents were Dust-Bowl Okies. They came to California and lived in the Sunset Labor Camp they talk about in The Grapes of Wrath. My granddad drove a tractor and ran irrigation for a farm near where I currently live. They were hardworking, giving people. I can remember when I was little and they had very little to spare, they would help their neighbors anyway.
I never heard them complain about not having enough. NEVER.


steplikeagiant November 23, 2008 at 10:27 am

My grandmother was born in 1921 and was working in the cotton fields at 5 years old. She told me once of how her older brother Bill would go without food so she and her younger sister could eat. My grandmother was as close to a saint as you can get and she started with nothing but nothing. She taught me almost all I know about how to live. I miss her every single day of my life.


Jan November 23, 2008 at 10:32 am

My Dad was born in ’28. He tells me that Grandma used to rent rooms in the house, and men would sleep in shifts. The first shift that slept during the day would work out night & then vice versa. They used the same beds & everything.

She also would open up her parlor to men at night so they could gamble. They would pay her for the wine she would make in the cellar (remember Prohibition?) and pay her for using the room.

Hey-she had 8 mouths to feed & did what she had to do. She was 1 woman you wouldn’t want to mess with!


Dawn November 23, 2008 at 11:43 am

I think the nearest economic issue that this time frame can be compared to is the early 70’s. Although the only thing we need to get near the depression of the 30’s would be to have a weak winter and lack of rain, that would turn our kinda bad recession into a really cruddy one that would beat out the 70’s.. imho


Peggy November 23, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Thank you for a very interesting post that is so very true. Along those lines….I collect vintage homemaking books, particularly the “Hints from Heloise” books from the 1950s-1960s. It is amazing to me that so much of what we wouldn’t think twice about just tossing, our predecessors used and used again. We have a long, long, way to go before our situation can be compared to the
Great Depression, and we even have a long way to go before our standard of living would be similar to the times in which some of us grew up. Lifestyles have become so hyper-inflated that we need more to feel satisfied. I always enjoy reading your columns. Thanks for all you do.!


CanadianKate November 23, 2008 at 7:52 pm

We had a discussion on this at a church tea today. The ladies I talked to grew up in the Depression so they don’t think I’m nuts for washing out and reusing bags. Others, even one who grew up during the war in England, do.

If I hoard because I believe I won’t have enough, I’ll create a negative energy that will ensure I don’t have enough. When I let things flow out of my life believing that when I have a need, abundance will be mine, what I need seems to flow into it.

The trick is balancing that belief in abundance with today’s headlines. If they are true, I’d be foolish to give away things I don’t need now because they may be useful in the future.

Still struggling with that.

In the meantime, I needed a (used) scarf to match my new (used) coat and the first consignment store had the perfect scarf and a killer red Christmas sweater that I wore today to church to rave reviews. And 20% off everything. And each item I chose was already marked down. That’s an example of how my abundance attitude is working for me.


Magdalena November 24, 2008 at 5:02 am

My family was in the east, mostly farming, at the time of the Depression. My mother’s mother grew up very poor after losing her father at a young age, though. Her first sewing project, at the age of ten, was to turn a man’s overcoat into a winter coat for herself! She was amazing at converting one thng into something else. I agree, though, that this kind of frugality can lead to a hoarding mentality that is counter-productive. I have helped these older people clean out houses, and they always seem to have kitchen drawers stuffed with bread bags, twist ties, used aluminum foil, and so on, as well as six decades of worn out clothing piled in closets and attic boxes. As one dear Native American colleague said to me, “Hoarding means you don’t trust God.” And you need to pay somehow for storing it, whether with a bigger house or with storage units. Keep only what you need now, and recycle the rest. We ask God for our daily bread, not the bread we think we will need for a lifetime.


mama November 24, 2008 at 7:35 am

My dad was born in 1922 in a family of seventeen children. He told stories about how one Christmas the kids all had scarlet fever. They were laying in fours beds- two for the girls and two for the boys. Grandma was taking care of them, but four died anyway. The oldest daughter died, and her next sister in line, as did two of the younger boys. My dad survived as did his 1yr older brother and 1yr younger brother among others. On Christmas day Grandpa brought in a cornhusk doll to each sister, and a whittled “toy soilder” to each boy.

Dad would also talk about eating “grease” sandwiches with a lot of salt for flavor. Grandma would save lard from cooking and then they would dip bread into it with salt. That was the school lunch for each of the kids.

Dad talked about getting caught stealing a chicken from the neighbors once. Grandma “covered” for him so he wouldn’t get into trouble. They were starving, so stealing a chicken to survive and feed your siblings was something he felt he had to do. Grandma gave the hen back to the neighbor with the excuse it “wandered” over into their yard where the dog killed it.


Tara Morrison November 24, 2008 at 7:58 am

My grandmother loved telling us about her Martha White underwear. In fact, she wore entire outfits out of flour sacks. My family had always had gardens or farms being in South and would make extra money selling the things they grew. They also ate a lot of beans. She remembered those times somewhat fondly even though they were hard her family grew stronger.


Wendy November 24, 2008 at 8:10 am

Thanks for the book recommendation. I just reserved it at my local library; I only wish they had a copy on CD for the car. My husband and I are huge fans of works by Sinclair and Steinbeck and, ironically, were just searching for a great following in the genre of social realism.


Ginger November 25, 2008 at 3:32 pm

My Mom also grew up during the Great Depression…she was an awesome seamstress and made all her daughter’s (there were three of us) clothes all through their school years.

Even when my Dad was making good money as an engineer she was very frugal. Once he bought her a brand new Mercedes for Christmas and surprised her with it in the driveway. It was way funny! She was furious with him for the extravagance and made him take it back the next day and trade for a station wagon.


namastemama November 17, 2010 at 9:50 pm

amazing stories. Thanks everyone for sharing.


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