I was born in 1929 in an industrial working town called Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was the year the stock market crashed. Welcome to the Great Depression.
The worst of times
Of course, the early 1930s was when massive unemployment took place and the Depression really hit. My dad had a butcher and grocery store where the norm was that customers charge for their groceries and pay once a week on payday. The Depression laid off workers, meaning they couldn’t make it when payment was due, causing the store to go bankrupt. The loss of a business meant there was no income or way to support a family of five children. There was no unemployment compensation. Eviction from the rented apartment soon followed, as the rent could not be paid.
Thanks to the assistance, a roach-infested fourth-floor apartment in a neglected state in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods became available. I can’t imagine the difficulties my parents faced at that time. The difficulties continued for many years with part-time jobs – the Works Progress Administration initiated by President Roosevelt. The difficulties continued throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.
On December 7, 1941, at the age of 12, while I was walking, I was approached by a frantic journalist who asked me to hurry and get some newspapers immediately. Having sold evening papers on a street corner for several years, I wondered why on a Sunday afternoon. It was, of course, “Extras”, with headlines stating that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Shouting “Extra, Extra” on Main Street and even selling at 5 cents instead of the usual 2 cents, I kept selling. I came home to show my mother how much money I had made, only to find her crying while listening to the radio with my father. She knew that my two older brothers who had just graduated from high school would be called to serve our country.
The war years were difficult as the country prepared for war, including being involved with Japan and Germany. However, the patriotism was greater than at any time I can remember, with women in the workforce, bond drives, children (including me) picking up junk and cinemas playing the national anthem before the screening of the film while everyone present was on their feet.
There was no kneeling or disrespect for the flag.
The best of times
My childhood and adolescence were good times for our generation. We didn’t have the worries of our parents. We had little and would probably be considered poor today; however, many of my childhood friends were in the same boat. We had a close-knit family life, which unfortunately isn’t seen too often these days. There were pick-up games on Saturdays, after a strict but good learning at school. If you misbehaved at school, you feared your father would find out – he always said you got what you deserved – and there was always respect for authority.
The 1940s after the war and the return of my brothers after three years in the Pacific and in Europe were good years, and it was so until the early 1950s with the Korean conflict which was my turn to be drafted and serve in combat.
Other than 1950 to 1953, the 1950s were very good years, meeting my current wife of 64 and having five great children.
Not so good times
It is very difficult to give advice to the current generation. Through no fault of their own, they were exposed from an early age to rights, comfort zones, drugs, critical racial theory teaching, bad language, transgenderism, pornography, freedom of expression and lack of respect for our great country and authority. I pray for change to come – and I am increasingly convinced that it will be through elections – to right this ship, which badly needs it.
As a grandfather and great-grandfather, God bless our current generation and our great country.
Gerald Page, New Hampshire
The 30s, 40s and 50s
I read Richard Bryant’s article with great interest. He’s 86 and I’m 85, so our lives were parallel. I grew up in a small rural town in upstate New York. It was a wonderful life for a little child. Each farmer had dogs, so the puppies were plentiful. The farmer next door gave me a puppy when I was 3 years old. My parents said OK, but I had to be responsible for it. What a great learning experience. It’s a shock to me to see puppies selling for over $2,000 today.
I generally agree with everything in the article but would like to add a few points. I don’t remember the 30s, but the 40s and 50s were a great time to be a kid. I played a lot of baseball in my early years; every little town had a baseball team. It was the national pastime. We learned about teamwork and how to win and lose gracefully. I had chores to do. Families were encouraged to grow their own vegetables to help the war effort. They were called “victory gardens,” and I was in charge of our family’s garden. I grew carrots, potatoes, corn and tomatoes. I used to go out in the garden with a salt shaker and eat tomatoes right off the vine. Delicious! Also, the paper boy was selling war bond stamps. When your stamps totaled $18.75, you could turn them in for $25 after a while.
Once my chores were done, I would go play baseball with my friends. I had to be home by 6 p.m. because my father was home from work at that time and the family rule was that we all had to eat together at the kitchen table. We had no television. My mom was a stay at home mom and it was wonderful. She was the greatest mom of all time. She and I used to go together to pick blueberries in the fields, and we also played a lot of games.
Bryant must have been rich by my standards. He mentions the purchase of school meals. In my 12 years of public school, I could never afford school lunch. My lunch was mostly a ketchup sandwich I brought from home. For those who don’t know what a ketchup sandwich is, it’s just what it looks like: two pieces of bread with ketchup in the middle. I drank a glass of water. Sometimes the other kids would trade lunches, but no one ever traded with me. As an interesting note, at my house the tomato juice was a glass of water with a spoonful of ketchup in it.
I had to earn my own pocket money; my parents had no money to lose. I worked on neighbors’ farms for 50 cents an hour. My duties included cleaning the barns, pressing the hay, fixing the fences, herding the cows, milking the cows and chopping wood, and I also did a lot of babysitting. Baled hay was the best because it had secondary benefits. It gave me strong arms, so I won the elementary school home run championship.
We couldn’t afford a television or a telephone until the 1950s. Our first telephone was a shared line with eight families on the same line. You knew who the call was for by the number of rings. For example, ours was two short rings, our next door neighbor was one long and one short, and so on down the line. On Friday nights, we went next door to watch Gillette-sponsored fights on TV.
I went to college from 1954 to 1958. I graduated without any student debt. Tuition was only $500 a year and I had a scholarship. I also played college baseball for four years – no athletic scholarship, but the athletic department gave me a co-op job tending sports fields, laying lines for games, cleaning up rubbish after games etc. I went to college in New Jersey, where the drinking age was 21, so I never drank alcohol in college. I graduated when I was 20. There were no drugs in high school or college then, and I never smoked. Best decision I’ve ever made. Don’t start, it’s the worst thing you can do to your body.
I never had a car in high school or college; I couldn’t afford it. When I graduated from college in 1958, I used my graduation money, $500, to buy a used car. I then found a full-time job. I entered the army in 1960; the draft existed at the time. When I left the army in 1962, I returned to the same job. In 1964 I bought my first brand new car, a 1964 Plymouth sedan.
There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best time to be a kid. We were a far cry from the problems children face today with broken homes, drugs, gangs and crime. I had a happy childhood. We were lucky !
Dr. Douglas Lonnström, New York
What advice would you like to give to the younger generations?
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