Where Were You During the Great Depression?

“Where were you (or your family) during the Great Depression?” is a question raised by the Gen Lady for her “Where Were You Carnival.”   I can happily fess up that I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye during that unhappy time which ran for a decade mostly during the 1930s.

1933 is considered the worst year when one in four Americans who wanted to work, could not find a job.  Some people set the starting date as October 24, 1929, the so-called “Black Thursday” when the stock market crashed. Others set the ending date as around 1941 during World War II.

In 1933 my father was 20 years old, and my mother was 14. They would not meet for at least another 7 years. My father was still living with his parents in Merrimack New Hampshire–both of them with occupations that allowed them work, i.e. a railroad agent/conductor (see below), and a teacher.

Photograph of Clarence L. Webster in front of the Reeds Ferry Station (railroad) on Depot Street in Merrimack NH. The depot no longer exists. He was station agent and telegraph operator there for over 50 years. His dog, Spotty, also shown.

My father worked at odd jobs, hunted to bring home fresh game for dinner, and still had money left over to indulge his love of motorcycles and photography (see photograph below of my father with his sister)

Berwin H. “Webby” Webster with his sister in Merrimack NH.

His stories of driving his motorcycle through a few burning walls turned out to be true.

Photograph of B.H. Webster stunt riding his motorcycle through a burning wall. Circa 1930-1933.

My mother was in her first year of St. Joseph High School in Manchester, New Hampshire. She probably still wore a brace on her left leg, and I believe this was the year that she was admitted to a Boston hospital where they operated to correct her shortened leg that was a result of polio.  There is only one photograph of her during this time (see below).

Mary T. Manning of grammar school age in Manchester NH.

Her father was a chauffeur to several wealthy families and was working at the beginning of the Depression (see photograph below).  Near the end of the 1930s he retired, due to poor health and the beginnings of what we now call Alzheimer’s disease.

Charles A. Manning of Manchester NH in his chauffeur uniform, with his employer’s dog.

It was not a good time for any family to be without income.

My mother would say that as grim as the Great Depression was, there was good that came out of it.  Family members stayed at home longer and put off marriage–and so she got to know her siblings longer. There was no such thing as waste. Barter was frequent, and you knew your neighbors.  You learned new skills out of necessity–in my mother’s case, she learned how to sew. (That came in handy later on when she would make most of our play clothes, and some of our “Sunday best.”) The kids played simple games and were happy about it.  Crochet was one of my mother’s favorite leisure pastimes.

You’d think there was absolutely nothing funny about the Great Depression, but you’d be wrong….some people LOVED THE THIRTIES!


Also see “The Great Depression,” at Before My Time.

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