When I think about my mom's stories from growing up in the Depression or my dad's I am flabbergasted at what we call a recession. Here is one story from my mom that I will never be able to shake - I may not have all the details right, but I think I am close.
During late 30's my mom and her sister were given away to a family member (I think it was a family member) who lived in a farm. They had been living in Newark, New Jersey and their parents couldn't afford to feed them - so they gave them away. My mom must have been 8 or 9 at the time and her sister was 4 or 5.
On this farm they lived on oatmeal for two of their three meals. Plain oatmeal. Not the oatmeal I make today with soy milk, dried cherries, maple syrup... the works. No, just plain oatmeal. The farm also had goats and, I assume that meant they also had goat milk.
Picture this. 2 girls from the city were given away to live with long lost relatives on some farm somewhere in New York. They didn't have anyone who was particularly interested in them - this wasn't a loving Little House in the Prairie moment, it was more like sure you can live here if you don't make too much trouble and you shut up and eat your oatmeal.
My mom and her sister were used to running around the city pretty unsupervised. They would go to the movies and play in the streets. I don't know if you have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I always assumed that was how my mom's childhood was like.
Well, now they are living on this godforsaken farm in the middle of nowhere.
And here is the kicker. Someone rapes my mom. She never really said who. She never really gave all the details, but I know some family member felt the need to molest her. They did not get to her little sister, but that was probably because my mom was there to protect her - but there was no one to protect her.
This was the depression. Oatmeal. Giving away your kids. Desperation.
This isn't what we have today. Today we have people standing in line to by crap from China at midnight to give to their kids. Are we really in a depression? Are we really suffering?
Every time I revisit this snippet of my mom's experience during the real depression I am stunned at our lack of understanding about poverty as a nation - we have lost what it means to be really poor. To have nothing. To be so desperate that we give our kids away thinking it is the best, but of course even that was tinged in terribleness.
I am not supposing that we need to experience the horrible state that our nation was in during the Great Depression, but I do think we need to put that reality with what we have going on today into perspective. I believe, totally, what we have people telling us that it is bad, but if we really looked around it may not be that bad. Are you thinking of giving your kids away anytime soon? Are you eating oatmeal plain two meals a day? I don't think so - maybe, just maybe, it isn't as terrible as they say it is. And if that is true, what is really going on?
Side note: my mom never ate oatmeal again, she hated goats, and she was reunited with her mom and dad a few years after. But those are all other stories.
Photo is my mom at my 3rd birthday party... I'm in the sailor suit, of course.