Ever since I was a little girl, I have listened to stories my father told about the Great Depression. Admittedly, I only half listened because I had trouble believing the stories of trudging through 5 miles of snow to school every day. Surely, he must be exaggerating. Like any typical teenager, I dismissed him as a reminiscent parent who was living in the past.
Now my father is an old man and I am a middle aged woman. His memory is fading, and I deeply regret that I did not listen more attentively as he told the stories of his life. One, in particular, stands out.
During the Depression, “there wasn’t much of anything for anyone,” Dad always said. Dad remembers Christmas as a particularly difficult time, since there was no money for gifts. He recalls how he and his siblings would pester Grandpa for a Christmas tree. Grandpa would go out late on Christmas eve in the freezing cold, when all the good trees were gone and prices were slashed. A pathetically skinny tree, missing most of its needles, would come through the door with Grandpa. The kids didn’t mind; the tree was beautiful to them. It was decorated with whatever was in the house.
Christmas morning brought other surprises. Each child was given one of their own stockings that contained a new nickel, an orange (which was very hard to find) and their old shoes that Grandpa had resoled from scrap leather he found. Ponder the scene. Simple, meager offerings to these children, who were overjoyed by them.
Each child cherished that orange, savoring its’ juices, and took a long time to eat it. The children didn’t demand new shoes, but were very happy to have new soles to make them last “a little longer.” And, the new, shiny nickel was rarely spent — it was too pretty to blow it on anything. This was a time to be utilitarian and resourceful.
Today, we look at how far we have come and how much we have changed. While we are fortunate to have so much and to not be in a Depression, we really have no idea where our economy will take us. Anger, frustration, and fear prevail among us, just as it was back then.
What makes our parents’ generation different from ours? They simply found a way, out of necessity, to make it work. They put food on the table and kept the family together. Their thoughts would never be on flat screen TVs, new cars, and Blackberries or Wii systems, even if they had them back then. They simply did without. And they survived to tell us about it.
So when you are opening your gifts this holiday season, imagine an old tattered stocking, filled with a nickel, an orange, and newly-soled shoes. Simplicity is a beautiful thing!
© 2009 Julie Hall