If you are old enough to have been born in the Great Depression, you are now 80 years old. Few people alive today have adult level memories of those terrible years, 1929-39, when jobs were scarce, farm prices low, crop yields very poor and the combination of heat, dust and despair permeated every pore.
Called the Dirty Thirties, that decade was as bad as all that was written about it and probably worse.
The grandchildren of the Depression are now aging as well and the traits that the Depression etched into the hearts, minds and souls are fading as well. It used to be taken for granted that you saved everything, from newspapers to cardboard and wooden boxes. You made everything last by repairing and patching. Fine china was saved for special occasions. Clothing, even socks, were mended, pants and overalls patched, sometimes patches on patches. Although always a reality, scrap quilts thrived in the Depression and the years that followed it.
When people got a bit of money, they bought “nice” things to have and to keep. It might be better cookware, china, a newer car, better farm machinery. And they saved things, stored them, hoarded even.
It is out of the Depression that hoarding was born. “You might just need it some day” went to such extent that it became an obsession. I have been on countless yards and in innumerable homes where the owners have reluctantly come to the realization, they will never live long enough to repair or restore all their projects.
As we run out of Depression-era influence, not all the changes are good. We used to save stuff, now it is pitched out and often not to recycle or re-use, but straight to the garbage bin. Landfills are accumulating at an alarming rate. People are becoming painfully aware of plastic debris in our oceans. Strangely, nobody is asking how all that plastic junk got into the oceans. It wasn’t carried to the ocean’s edge by little kids throwing away their candy wrappers at the seashore. It was dumped there by cities and municipalities simply loading barges of garbage and dumping it into the ocean. This is pollution at its very worst.
People used to save to buy stuff. Now everything can be, and is, financed. Few pay cash for cars, homes or household furniture. People used to grow their own gardens, today, few even know where food comes from.
The Depression cast a long shadow, shadows that we have all been affected by. As we outrun and outlive those shadows, darker shadows of debt, a loss of self-help and self reliance and a sense of happiness with our blessings are being cast across our lives, our thoughts, our very souls.
Why did I write this? It is so I will remember, we all will remember what shaped us and continues to shape us. The Depression made us what we are and it’s important to remember the past. To know from whence we have come. It’s even more important to know where we are going. In spite of the depths of despair the Depression caused, it also built in a determination and self-reliance that has become scarcer today than it should have.
The secret is to glean the good parts of the Depression era-infused traits and cast aside the bad ones. Knowing the difference is the trick.
Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.