There are many people who believe living without all the amenities available to us to own today are deprived. But Kate of Enuff Stuff reminded me that people used to sacrifice for a better life. Kate shared a few interesting details I hadn’t known about the sacrifices many made to pay for World War II. I decided it was time to share a family story about the Great Depression.
My grandfather was born to a mother who had been set financially for life by her father. See her father was a builder who in the 1800s built a great many homes in my hometown. At that time, when you built a home, it belonged to you and you rented it out for income.
When my great-great grandfather died he had two daughters and split the properties equally between them so they would never have to worry about money. For my great-grandmother (Caroline) she was fortunate to have these properties and the income they brought in as it soon turned out her husband would never be one to support their large family, he was what you would call a drunk dead-beat.
When the Great Depression hit, Caroline saw the fears in her tenants eyes. They were afraid because they could barely put food on the table for their families and knew they could be put out on the street at any time to be homeless.
Caroline felt such empathy with her tenants that one day she pulled out all the deeds for her properties (keeping only the one she and her family lived in) and went door-to-door signing over each and every house to the tenants telling them it was her way to make sure they had one less thing to worry about.
Now she could have just waived the rent until they could pay, but she wanted to give them a piece of security she had always felt, knowing they had a roof over their heads that belonged to them.
My great-grandfather (Daniel) was furious. He refused to get a job, meaning the boys all left school to work and support the family. Caroline for her part sold all her material possessions, even the family silver. She sold the silver holding on to only a single knife and a spoon each family member to use.
Caroline, raised a garden that would surprise many people with the small-sized yard she had. My grandfather talked lovingly of the chickens, the grape arbors, the vegetables and fruits they would pick and help their mother store. Of how they traded her canned foods and eggs for meat to be salted down and preserved.
Caroline was as content as any could possibly be. She raised her children by telling them they were rich. She said they had plenty of food on the table, mended clothes, a roof that would always be over their heads, and her love. That there was nothing more anyone needed to be happy and rich.
Caroline’s sister never spoke to Caroline again. She said Caroline was a fool to have given away her properties. Caroline never saw it that way and neither did her children, (my grandfather and aunts and uncles). Caroline’s sister was so angry that she forbid her children from speaking to Caroline or Caroline’s children. My grandfather would only point from time to time at the lawyer who was a cousin, but when asked if he wished that could have been him, he would respond quickly with “No”.
My grandfather never had the opportunity to eat off a fork in his own home until after he was married in 1941 and cherished the luxury of eating from a fork till he passed away. Can you imagine what it must be like to hold a fork and be thankful because you could afford to own it? But never did he regret the decision his mother made during the Depression. He called his mother a saint, and honestly believed that, as did his siblings. he talked with pride about his mother’s act of signing over all the houses she owned. He would tell us that it took a special person to give up all security for herself and her family to give security to another.
How many of us would give up, happily, everything we owned to give another family some peace of mind? How many of us would give up everything to be left in the same boat as others, unsure of what tomorrow would bring? How many would do this if they knew they would never again speak to their only sibling?
Caroline died before I was born, but I always felt as if I knew her from my grandfather’s stories. Each one was filled with such love and respect it, from a man who held his emotions close, it would bring me near to tears. My grandfather told me that after the Depression the families who had been Caroline’s tenants became her best friends and when she died it seemed as if the President had died. The outpouring of love for her was that overwhelming.
Yes, I have let go of a lot of things in the past 2 years to move myself into a simpler way of life. But I didn’t give up everything for someone else. I didn’t give up something that was precious to me, I only gave up what no longer meant any thing to me.
Recently, I guess it’s because of the election coming up, I’ve begun to hear stories of how families are so poor they can’t afford a television, or a computer, or a car and need to rely on public transportation. When did these things become necessary to live. Don’t get me wrong I love my computer and would hate to give it up, but again, we don’t need these things do we? Instead, tell me how many children went to bed hungry, or how many children are living in homes without heat, or worse yet, without love. Remembering Caroline’s description of richness: food, shelter, mended clothes (notice she didn’t say new), and love of a mother. Using those terms how many of us are really poor?