Each family experienced the depression years differently based on where they lived and how they shared their trials with each other and their neighbors. When I married and began getting acquainted with my husband’s parents, one of the topics was “What was your life like as you grew up?” and they instantly made me aware of how different their lives has been than my own parents. Let me delve into each of our parents because neither my husband nor I was born during this time.
Jewell Baker Thornton (my mom), born in 1921, grew up on a 200+ acre farm owned by her parents in south-central Kentucky. The crops were not harshly impacted by the depression, so the family fared well compared to many others. As I asked more questions of my mom, she replied that she had one dress to wear to school and one to wear to church. She didn’t think that was unusual since most of her friends were in the same boat. The family enjoyed a variety of foods either raised on their farm or bartered from their neighbors. Mom lived at home through 1939 and then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend nurses training. Obviously, my grandparents had enough money to send her to school, as they had done for all of her older siblings.
James Andrew Thornton (my dad), born in 1918 in central Arkansas, had a much harder life and his experiences differed greatly from my mom. His parents moved almost every year seeking jobs as sharecroppers but remained within a 20-mile radius. He had four older sisters and two younger brothers and one younger sister. As the oldest boy, his parents had him drop out of school after third grade to get jobs to support the family. At the end of fourth-sixth grades, he attended school for six weeks and took tests to pass to the next grade. After that, he sought full-time jobs wherever he could find them, including moving to southwestern Michigan to work in fruit processing canning. He developed a number of skills, but with so little education, he was limited in what he could do. His change came when we entered the war and he enlisted. A steady paycheck allowed him to send money home to help his parents.
Orpha Broberg Erickson (my husband’s mother), born in 1919, grew up on a family rented farm in the northeast part of Nebraska. Orpha had one older brother and one younger sister and they all stayed in school and finished high school before getting jobs. They worked on the farm and kept up with the family vegetable garden. Since jobs were scarce for women, Orpha moved to Los Angeles in 1936 and became a maid for a wealthy family. She learned about a whole new world of living and was taught how to set a proper table, care for all aspects of the home care, and cook unfamiliar foods. This has stayed with her throughout her life. In 1939 she moved to Detroit and became a secretary.
Martin Adolph Erickson (my husband’s father), born in 1910 in Seattle, Washington. Martin’s parents had both grown up on farms in Sweden and had immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. They met and married in Seattle, but his dad couldn’t find a job that suited him, so he bounced from one job to another. I think this frustration led them to decide to farm. The Canadian Pacific Railroad offered land at a low price, thus the move in 1920 to southern Alberta, Canada. They moved onto undeveloped land with nothing provided. The land was not as good for farming as promised. Martin was ten and the oldest of three children, so he helped his mom clear the land while his dad built their house and a barn. His interest in making life easier on the farm developed early. An example: he automated the butter churn so his mom didn’t have to manually churn the butter. He attended a one-room school and excelled at academics. Two sisters taught all grades through grade 11. He showed so much promise that they tutored him through grade 12 and had him go to university for a year of remedial work. He transferred to Queens University in Ontario graduating at the top of his class in mechanical engineering. In 1937 he moved to Detroit, Michigan to work at Chrysler. His skills continued to improve, he earned his Master’s degree at Chrysler Institute, and he later, after the war, transferred to Ford Tractor, where he developed a number of patented items for farm equipment.
Free photos: (1) soup kitchen from hoovervillet.weebly.com; (2) doing laundry from frdlibrary.marist.edu; (3) hopping on train from urbanghostsmedia.com; (4) secretary from pinterest.com; (5) Chrysler from pinterest.com; Depression wordle from clipartkid.com