Depression Years




Montreal Soup Kitchen 1931 courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The Depression era holds me. It is the springboard to my upcoming memoir about my immigrant parents in Seattle, and my own life that follows. The times were worse than any of us in 21st century America can imagine. An excerpt from my story follows:

“With construction at an end, his wife Marie’s life on a downward course, and his own declining health, Hans Pederson could no longer escape to his office with its sign on the wall, GET YOUR HAPPINESS OUT OF YOUR WORK OR YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPINESS IS. Both his wife and his business empire were failing. He was forced to terminate his loyal employees. The banks wouldn’t lend him money. His tenants couldn’t pay the rent.”

The daily Delancy Place blog answers its question, How bad was the Depression? by quoting an excerpt from Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild.

“Viewed from a distance of over eighty years, the great Depression takes on a benign and familiar quality. It was anything but, and was filled with starvation, riots, death and despair.

“The country . . .simmered in misery. Thirty four million Americans lived in households with no wage earner. In every city, long lines of jobless men waited outside soup kitchens, but the churches and charities operating them sometimes ran out of funds and had no food to serve. Families rummaged in trash bins and garbage dumps for anything edible and tried to keep warm in winter over sidewalk hot-air grates. in Pennsylvania, homeless unemployed steelworkers and their wives and children lived inside idled coke ovens. The economic abyss was deepend by a drought of historic proportions that sent millions of people streaming westward from the Great Plains under vast clouds of topsoil turned to dust. Midwestern farmers who managed to harvest a crop sometimes could find no grain elevator willing to buy it. The city of Detroit slaughtered the animals in its zoo to provide meat for the hungry.

“A mood of national despair was punctuated by moments when the desperate tried to seize what they needed to survive. Some 300 men and women gathered on the main street of the town of England, Arkansas, and refused to move until shop owners distributed bread and other food. In Oklahoma City, people forced their way into a grocery store and took food off the shelves, while in Minneapolis it required 100 policemen to break up a crowd doing the same thing.”

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