My mother, Liz, is a remarkable woman. At 84 years old, she still works five days a week, manages a house, drives, cooks, never forgets a birthday and shops with the best of them. As a younger woman, she also managed to raise six children on a very inconsistent budget. Growing up, sometimes we were flush, other times, we found ourselves less fortunate. Still, every night, like clockwork, there was a hot meal on the table and more than enough to go around. While my mother is undoubtedly a talented baker and a wonderful cook, looking back, she also strikes me as somewhat of a miracle-worker.
While I’m hesitant to say we’re entering the Great Depression II – thanks to hopeless optimism and all that good stuff – it doesn’t seem like a great stretch to call these uncertain times the Great Recession. Inspired by mother’s ingenuity when it came to dishing up meal after meal on what was often a shoestring budget, my daughter, Mariel, asked her for some advice – if she could recount what it was like growing up as a child of the Great Depression and then feeding her own large brood years later.
Without further ado, here is her unedited answer. While it’s a nostalgic look back at a bygone era, it also serves as a hopeful reminder that what we’re all experiencing now, will pass with time.
When I was a kid growing up during the Depression everyone was broke so there was really no discussion about money-saving ideas regarding food. In spite of the fact that my father was out of work a good deal of the time, we ate well. I have always felt my mother’s parents helped a great deal. My mom had several customers who bought her cakes, pies, cookies and rolls quite regularly and that helped pay the bills. At Christmas time she earned enough money to buy us the presents we asked for.
Many years later, she told me one of her biggest disappointments was never being able to buy the bicycle Sarah (my sister) had wanted for so long. We were more aware of the shortage of money in our clothes and things like not being able to go to camp because we couldn’t afford it. I remember my dad buying rubber soles at the 5 and 10 cent store and gluing them on the soles of our shoes because they had holes in them—-(before the holes got too big he cut cardboard to fit in the shoes and when that wore through he bought the rubber soles.)
I remember one time when he took Sarah and me for an ice cream cone as a special treat. They cost 5 cents in those days for a double scoop. I dropped mine and he almost cried because he didn’t have a nickel to buy me another one.
I know this isn’t exactly what you asked me about, but your questions brought back so many memories that I haven’t thought about in a long time. In those days, parents didn’t discuss things much with their kids—they really didn’t want us to know how bad things were. We really had a very happy childhood—we knew we were loved and my mom and dad gave us everything they could.
When I was feeding my crew I sat down once a week and made out a menu and shopping list for the week. Lots of casseroles, hamburger and hot dogs in many forms etc. I don’t think I ever made a dinner that everyone liked! I loved cooking and was always trying new recipes from magazines and the newspaper. And of course, I baked nearly every day (that, they all loved).
One of our neighbor’s little girl said when they visited friends—-“they must be very rich! We had store bought cookies!” Everyone in Levittown was a young GI family just starting out after the war so again, no one had much money. When your grandfather and I were first married we felt rich if we literally had 25 cents left at the end of the week!
Please forgive my rambling on—I’ve had fun remembering things long forgotten.