As promised in an earlier post, Angus Munro, author of A Full House – But Empty, has agreed to stop by As the Pages Turn and tell us more about his wonderful book and his experiences growing up in the Great Depression. What I find ironic is it seems the same thing might be going on here soon, knock on wood. Maybe Angus can give us some insights with his experiences growing up in the Great Depression…incidentally if you want to check Angus out on the web, his website is www.angusrmunro.com. Buy his book. Make a tour coordinator happy. ;o) I will be giving the book a full review on Friday so stay tuned for that! Take it away, Angus!
Growing Up in the Great Depression ( by Angus Munro)
I recently completed my Memoirs titled, A Full House – But Empty. I must preface that the following experiences and observations are coming from me as a child of the Great Depression and not as a mature adult today – reliving those many years ago.
I was born in Vancouver, Canada during that difficult period. At age three, my
parents separated and my father received full custody of my two sisters and me. My older sister was six and my youngest sister was still in infancy. Based on our family situation, the Provincial Government furnished my father, free home care assistance and we had two wonderful ladies taking care of our daily needs. They would alternate their schedule to accommodate other similar commitments. However, one or the other would come – each weekday and we loved them.
My father had been a farmer and untrained for city life in terms of a specific trade or vocation. He was classified as unskilled labor. When not working my father did qualify for financial assistance. However, ironically when not working, he was put to work! He would be assigned to work at a local park as a watchman caretaker and/or as a spare gardener. I recall my sister Laura and I would stop by a neighborhood park that he was assigned to work. He was always happy to see us. In hindsight, and looking at today’s required vigilant and cautious world, seemingly, a concern of safety was never a factor. Laura and I would travel freely all over the neighborhood without fear or concern.
I recall during this period, three or four miles away, there were vast fields of wild blueberries. In season, a neighbor would take several families in the back of his truck and we all went blueberry picking. En route we would all sing the latest Hit Parade songs. Also, neighbors and friends would stop by with fruits and vegetables from their home gardens and orchards just to help us all get by. Those gifts often included used toys and clothing, etc.
My father loved playing poker. Several neighbors and friends would stop by during the week in the evenings for poker games. No one had any money so they used The Eddy Match Company wooden matches that came well supplied in a box. At the end of the evening – at settlement time with each having or not having a stack of matches to count as winnings– I have no idea how it was resolved – as to who got what after the final count. I was simply too young to know. Whatever, they all kept coming week after week and always playing with those wooden matches.
When unemployed, my father was provided with a Relief credit allotment to obtain clothing for we three children. One could always tell which children were from poor families as they had the same monolithic dress code. Same style, same material, all from the same allotment. The girls had their basic standard and the boys theirs.
Churches and private charity organizations were very generous in assisting families in need. Particularly, during the Christmas season, these great gift givers tried so hard to provide girls and boys with the most suitable toys. They also furnished food hampers throughout the year to those seriously in need. I am certain that many of those givers and would-be-caretakers, probably were personally faced with limited incomes and resources too.
We united with another family when I was seven years old. Another single father with five children. He and my father were both from farming families and had shared similar marital problems. Fortunately, that father was working full-time for a roofing company and my father was just working sporadically. They were both faced with the same problems and concerns so unifying our families was a positive union. We rented a large frame house that had a vacant adjacent lot – which we usurped. We raised chickens and goats that were housed on our adjacent lot, and we had four prolific apple trees in our main yard. The remaining land on both lots was cultivated into kitchen gardens growing a variety of vegetables. Overlooking our home, there were vast grasslands on railroad property to sustain our goats. We lads did the hoeing, tended to our chickens and goats and made milk deliveries, etc. We had a regular little farm in the city that helped us tremendously during those Depression years.
My father also had a key to a very secured orchard in South Vancouver. During the fruit-picking season, we lads along with my father would go to that orchard and pick apples, cherries, plums and pears. When leaving the orchard, we would have loaded containers and gunny sacks full of fruit and we would all stand at the back of the streetcar with my father. All being contained in that small area with our sacks and containers made if difficult for other passengers to board or exit the streetcar. It was really embarrassing; however, both the conductor and other passengers were generously kind to us. People were so thoughtful and giving during those difficult times.
My father would visit weekly the fish canneries at the docks and receive free salmon that was always so fresh and delicious. We had a wonderful bread man who would come daily with our order. Apart from his regular bread delivery service he had a small business on the side. He would purchase food supplies at reduced prices and offer them to his bread customers. On one occasion, we purchased a huge box of slightly damaged ice cream cones. We couldn’t afford the ice cream, so creatively we crunched up the cones and poured our goat’s milk over them. For a few weeks, this was our featured evening dessert. I can only say this, “ I unequivocally have never ever eaten the cone of an ice cream since. And ditto to drinking goat’s milk.”
In terms of entertainment, as children we were allotted six cents every Saturday to attend the local matinee theater. It cost five cents for the movie and one cent covered the cost of receiving three small pieces of candy. Cecil, a lad in the other family and I always went to the movies together. If no funds were available – I resourcefully took care of the situation. If our lilacs were in bloom or our apples when in season, I would take a bouquet or a bag to a neighbor stating that my father wanted us to share with them. Gratefully, they would give me a dime or so and off we went to the movies. On off –season, if the problem existed, we would surreptitiously raid clothes hangers from home and sell them to the local cleaners for a penny each. These nefarious stunts by the way, where done all on the Q. T. Our only concern was the end result – off to the movies – our favorite pastime.
A closing thought:
When I look back reminiscently – those four years – half being the tail end of the Great Depression were to me the happiest years in my life. Conversely, my father thought that particular period was the worst and dullest in his life. We parted as our rented house was sold. The other family purchased a fixer-upper and we rented an apartment. Apparently, with the exception of myself, all members of both families were ebulliently looking forward to our new locations. Our very close ties among both families remained – but I was so devastated facing our departure. To each his own; however, with great persistence, I still carry those wonderful memories of so long ago, but still, so very fresh in my thoughts.