There are many things in history that people prefer not to speak of, or even think about. Things that seem so out of reach today, just as they did back then. However, I believe we should not hide from our pasts or the hard times we faced. Instead we should turn and face them. We should embrace them. We should learn from them and grow as people, as a society. As young children we are told we must learn about history, so as not to repeat it. So allow me to share my version of history; my version of the Great Depression.
In November of 1929, when the stock market crashed, I was 8 years old. I had no idea what any of the hysteria around me was for. My mother and father only spoke about it in hushed tones after my brother and I had been put to bed. I could only hear the fear in their voices, the tears that my mother shed as she and father tried to come up with a plan to keep the four of us alive and well cared for.
For the next several years the stock market would fluctuate. The working population of America would constantly be in the mindset of feeling somewhat secure economically to fearing they would become homeless and be left begging for food on street corners. Sadly, the latter was what many did face.
How did I fair? Well, my family was somewhere in between. For the first six years of the Depression my father still maintained his job, but my mother and brother had begun work as well to help us put food on the table. I, being the youngest, was left to clean and care for the house after school while everyone else worked long, hard hours for meager helpings of bread and milk.
It was in 1935 that my father lost his job. My brother, Sidney, also lost his job. (Thankfully my mother had managed to keep her job, working as a maid for the wealthy who had escaped the poverty and pain the majority of America was facing.) After losing his job my father withdrew all of our money from the bank and hid it. He would move it from its hidden storage often. Sometimes he would bury it in the yard, once I saw him stuff it under him and mother’s mattress. I asked him about it when I caught him shoving all of it into a cookie jar and he told me:
“I can’t let it sit in one place for too long. People even poorer than us are desperate and won’t stoop past robbery. The more trails I lead the less likely we are to have it stolen."
In 1937, two weeks before my 16th birthday, my father left. While Sidney and I were at school and mother was busy working he gathered all he could hold in his suitcase and left. Why did he leave you may be asking? Well, he left us a letter explaining it all:
“Dear Margaret, Sidney, and Lucille,
I am very sorry to leave you three behind. However, I simply cannot continue this life. I am unable to provide my family with bread. How pathetic is that? A man who can’t feed his family. A man who has to make his wife and children work while he is unable to. I am leaving because I am ashamed of what I have let this family become. You will live better lives without me. It’s one less mouth to feed. I have taken half of our money and left the rest to you. It may seem unfair for me to have half and leave the three of you with what’s left, but remember you all have jobs that pay, they may not pay well, but they pay. I’m going far away to search for work in a different town. I will probably never see you again. Please know, it’s best for it to be this way.
So we continued on without my father. To this day I still feel resentment towards the man who left us when it was too hard for him, but I cannot say it was bad that he left.
He was weak and we were strong.
In 1939, life finally started to look up. We could afford actually food and people were no longer terrified of being fired. Life was beginning again. We were free from the claws of the Depression.
Today, I am 96 years old and I think about those years almost daily. They do not haunt me, but rather serve me quite well. After what I endured during the Great Depression I fought hard for the life I’m now living. I am a frugal woman, but how can you blame me? After years of living with nothing I wanted to ensure I never went through that again. I am careful, cautious, I don’t gamble, don’t drink, don’t smoke. I wouldn’t dare throw money away for such awful habits. I may have endured hard times during my teenage years, but I stand strong today and teach people about what I went through.
I am Lucille Wallace.
I may have lived and suffered through the Great Depression, but I didn’t let it define who I am today.