Thursday, November 01, 2007

TGD Meme

Where is the stock market today? Why? What does the interest rate cut mean? What does it affect? Why is the dollar falling? What is oil trading at today? How much have housing prices really fallen (perhaps “really” in relation to the price of gold)? What would you do in a hyper-inflation economy? I do not understand why people don’t know the answers to those questions. And so many more.

I fully believe that we’re going to have to be a world of gardners and husbanders. That no matter who you are or where you are, you yourself are going to have to grow some of your own food -- have a garden, have a hutch of rabbits, hunt, wildcraft, etc. I believe that food will be how the global warming and peak oil and general economic collapse will be felt because people will not quit driving until the gas stations are empty and food is scarce.

I am not an advocate of “going back” but I certainly think there are things to be learned from the past. I think the most recent period of the most learning for us right now would be the Great Depression. I’m old enough that my parents lived through the Depression and I got to talk with them and their parents about what it was like. My husband even had a great-grandmother to give her perspective on it. What was it that happened? How did people get through it?

First I think it is important to understand that all of my family, and all of my husband’s family, were in the mountains of Southern Appalachia, in fact, within about a four county area of extreme southwestern Virginia, the coalfields, not more than forty miles from where we live now. None were professionals, none had “investments”, but all owned land. In fact, in talking with them, the thing that stands out to me was what little difference "the Depression” made to their every day lives. They didn’t have money before the Depression and they didn’t have it during the Depression. It didn’t matter. They had all grown food before and grew it during. When asked they say something like, “Well, nobody had anything, no money, no nothing.” But when asked, “Well, did you have food?” they say, “Sure, we had food. We weren’t ever hungry.”

Of course, the food they had you might not recognize as food -- beans and cornbread formed the backbone of it, and it was grown and cooked at home. Beans and any grain would do as well. They kept cows and milked them but as far as I can tell no one made cheese. They raised pigs.

These next observations are not specifically Depression related but are specifically how my great-grandparents lived. They had children from the late 1890s to the early 1920s, sixteen of them and they all lived to adulthood. They started out on some land on top of the mountain but eventually moved into “town” but this would have been a “town” like on little house on the prairie or something, maybe a few hundred people, and they still had acreage. Grandpa never had a wage paying job, ever. Grandma sold butter. Once a year they took the butter money and outlines of the children’s feet to town and bought them shoes. Grandma did some midwifing and was generally a healer. She would have rarely been paid for this but it is part of what hold communities together, how people look out for each other when they aren’t blood relations.

Another grandfather had extensive gardens. By the time I knew him, that’s what I knew about him -- that he loved to garden.

All these people had land. I don’t know how they got it but obviously owning land was more important to them than having the latest gadget (they didn’t, for example, have cars for a long, long time). Land was the first thing, instead of the last thing (and no 30 year mortgage either), that they took care of. I am sure that having some land, and some experience growing food, is vital to surviving.

Some years ago a cousin of mine said something about us living like our grandparents. Until then I really hadn’t thought about it that way. I think it is more that we value the same sorts of things our grandparents did. And while I don’t aspire to “live like them”, not exactly and not for exactly the same reasons either, I do think we can learn a lot especially from the Depression experience. That’s why this is a meme. How did your family that lived through that time, say 1930 to 1940 -- where were they, what was life like before the Depression, what happened and how did life change, how did they manage, who lived and who died and who moved and where, and what lessons can you bring to tomorrow from their experience yesterday? How will you change your life? I really hope that people will participate in this meme, that it may grow well beyond here. If you don’t know already, ask someone in your family the questions, and if they are dead already, what can you find out anyway? Please leave a comment so we too can learn from your family’s experience.


Ren said...

wow. This is a good one. What I remember of the depression talks from both my grandparents, is they all lived on a farm (different parts of the country, but both sides were farmers at some point) and while they had "nothing" they did not go hungry.

My Dad remembers wearing shoes that were falling apart. They had deer on their 200 acres, raised animals, grew everything and harvested a lot of wheat.

My Mom's mother still saves EVERYTHING (the ultimate re-user) because of habits ingrained during that time. I've learned a lot from her.

I'm going to call them and ask more questions, thanks to this meme. Very cool. Thanks.

H. Stallard said...

My grandparents lived pretty much the same as yours with one difference...both of my grandfathers dabbled in making moonshine to sell and drink. I can remember helping my paternal grandfather pour it into small (pint size jars) and getting smacked on the back of the head when I spilled some. On my Dad's side the kids all went barefooted in the summer and only wore shoes when the weather turned cold. NOTHING was thrown away during the Dad till the day he died was the same way and it rubbed off on me. Everything was used and reused till it was completely worn out and then was still not thrown away.

Corn, beans, and potatoes were the main staples. Apples, berries, and mushrooms were gathered when ripe. I can still remember looking for strawberries and finding one as large as the end of your thumb was a special treat.

Hunting was a mainstay for meat...mostly rabbits and especially squirrel. Everyone had a long Tom single barrel shotgun usually in 12 gauge and a .22 rifle and if they were lucky some kind of deer rifle.

All the kids worked in the garden and my grandfathers plowed with a horse or mule. I can still remember riding one of the plow horses names Sam Freeman.

Heating for the house was from fireplaces in each room. If you were lucky you had a tall round Warm Morning Stove to sit behind in the morning as you got dressed. Up till I was in late grade school I remember sitting behind it with a wash pan full of water washing off before getting dressed for school.

We had an electric cook stove but I remember the pale green cook stove in my paternal grandmother's kitchen (a bit larger than the one I helped you with CG). Some of my warmest memories are of sitting behind that stove and smelling the aroma of food cooking in it.

karl said...

funny i was just talking about this topic yesterday. my grandfather sold the rights for formica for $1000 to dupont and made it through on that cash. my other grandfather had a small dairy farm and did fairly well.

eyemkmootoo said...
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eyemkmootoo said...
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CG said...

forgive me for being impolitely curious, but formica is its own company, has never been owned by DuPont, etc. Perhaps, Karl, there is something more to the story.

And Harold, those uncles of mine, I'm thinking they ran shine. They raced cars and flew airplanes and that goes together. They also have these stories of bars and the like. Maybe they worked some with your people!

And kmoo, yes. Food is not synonymous with McDonalds but I have the idea that people will starve to death waiting in the drive thru.

Eleutheros said...

"but formica is its own company, has never been owned by DuPont"

I was wondering if anyone was going to mention this. I was curious as to which one the grandfather in question was, Daniel O'Conor or Herbert Faber. Those were the two who invented formica and founded the Formica Corporation which operated as an independent company (except it was a subsidiary of American Cyanamid from 1956 until 1984) until just very recently when it was bought by Fletcher Building (see It or its product has never been owned by DuPont.

Although the name 'formica' was coined in 1913 because the laminate was designed to replace insulating mica (hence it is a replacement 'for mica'), the product we know today which is phenolic/paper, laminate coated with melamine resin was invented and patented in 1938 at a time when the Great Depression was pretty much over with.

eyemkmootoo said...
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Danielle said...

I've been thinking much along these lines lately...the questions you're asking have been forefront on my mind lately.

My maternal grandparents, whom I lived with for several years growing up, grew up on farms. My granddad grew up in Blackstone, WV, and my grannie on different farms in Virginia—both great-grandfathers were coal miners. My mom spent her early years on my great-grannie's farm in Toano, VA, while my grandfather was in the South Pacific during WWII... until my grannie bought a house all by herself.

They were people of the land, people who did for themselves, strong people and caring people and neighborly people. I feel deeply connected to them in so many ways, not the least of which is the way we're choosing to live today.

Thanks for this moment to reflect and begin to put to words much that's been rattling around in my brain. I'm glad you're back CG.

Alecto said...

Oh, this is so hard. Most of my family simply will not discuss it, but here is what I know:

Maternal - hardscrabble farmers, corn and cattle to this day with the exception of my paternal grandfather's line. Grandfather born in a chicken coop because it was the only standing building on the property, worked his way through high school and college during and after the depression as a house boy to become a corporate attorney and raise a family in suburban Missouri (and I still say 'Missourah' despite 37 years in the Northeast). He is almost single handedly responsible for teaching me how to shoot and clean a firearm, hunt, skin, cook, and garden. He might have been clean shaven every day of his adult life but his hands were Godly when they were in the earth and on the horse.

Paternal - until last generation raised produce and rabbits in the backyard of a rowhouse in Westwood, NJ. My dad was the first of the clan to attend university. He, and we, to some respect, never looked back. He retired on forty acres in Northern Vermont and lives for sugar season. He is remembering himself slowly even though I don't think he sees it. The rest of that line married investment bankers and have lost themselves.

My brother is an excutive coach who spends his free time in Denali. I don't think he'd starve or die under most circumstances. I am a suburban hybrid who will eat anything depending on the circumstances and can husband and garden at will. I might live. I don't eat at McDonalds. I draw the line at Skwerl but would change my mind in a heart beat the moment my blood sugar dropped.

Woody said...

My grandparents on both sides moved off the farms to work and run their business near the Frisco mainline. My maternal grandparents ran a market ( not a very successful venture) during the depression. My paternal Grandpa was a boilermaker/oiler for the Frisco railroad and Grandma was a school teacher. Their kin stayed on the farm (still there). Dad never really gives me the straight talk about what he remembers most about growing up during the depression. He was born in 29'. I do know that he drove the idea into my head that I should work my tail off while the work was there. I'm sure this was an attitude brought about by necessity and a touch of fear of the past. I haven't talked with my Mom on the subject but I will today.


Teri said...

My maternal grandparents were still eating the beans and cornbread when I was growing up in the 50s. And I've been eating a lot of it these days myself, due to low pay and high food prices. We're going to put in a garden next year. We'll have to break the ground and it will be tough to do by hand. I think we can grow enough of the basics to make a major dent in the food bill. I'm hoping to have milking goats next year too (lost my nubian giving birth this year.) But yes, I guess I agree with you. People really need to take gardening seriously starting this spring. The Great Depression didn't happen overnight. There is still time to learn how to do this, but it's time to start doing it.