My mama came from a family of ten kids, two girls and eight boys. She grew up in a close, knit family that believed in working for ye keep and learning early on how to survive and get by. Many times she told how they survived the depression and made do with whatever they had.
Back then everybody grew their own food but the basics were hard to come by. During the depression they gave out coupons and they’d pick em up at the little local store. The storekeeper would hand em out each month according to how many was in a family. He always had to keep records of what he handed out for the government. He helped people out a lot too. They’d bring their canned goods in and exchange em for something they needed. There was always someone in need and he knew he would be able to get rid of it all.
Mama said most of the time they’d just get a couple pounds of coffee to do a month or five or ten pounds of flour, and a bucket of lard with their coupons. If they were lucky to get an extra coupon they’d get a small bag of sugar or an extra five pounds of flour. The flour came in cloth sacks and their mother saved them up and sewed them into dresses and shirts.
Mama said that grandma would boil the same coffee grounds over and over till that coffee was so thin ye could see through it. Even after the depression started easing up and grandpa went to work for the WPA and they had a little more to live on grandma was still in the saving mode and kept boiling the coffee grounds over and over. My grandpa got tired of it and told her one day, now Sarie (Sarah) stop boiling them coffee grounds over so much. What ye doing, straining it through a white rag, you can stop now I want some real coffee not stained water. It was hard for grandma to change. She’d been in the saving business to long.
They always had plenty of cornmeal for bread since they grew the corn and grandpa carried big toe sacks to my other grandpa’s old grist mill every week. She said they only used the flour for breakfast cause they sure did love them cathead biscuits and gravy. There was many a morning they had to eat cornbread with their gravy cause they didn’t have any flour. Of course, cornmeal gravy and cornbread is the best eating around.
She and her brothers used to trap rabbits and take them to the little country store in exchange for some of the basics they needed. This was after they cleaned the rabbits up good and the head had to stay on them. My grandma knew exactly what the rabbits were worth by how many they had caught. He paid by the pound and she knew it. She’d make out a list of what she needed and send them to the store to fill it.
One time she and one of her brother’s that was the closest to her in age caught ten rabbits and took off towards the store with the rabbits on a stick and grandma’s list. On the way to the store her brother told her we’re gonna get us somethin good today. Mama told him, no we can’t cause mommy knows exactly how many rabbits we got, she’s made her list. He stuck his hand up under his coat and pulled out another rabbit. He said, I told you we’re gonna get us somethin good today. The only problem was the rabbit didn’t have a head. Apparently, while they were cleaning them one lost its head someway and he’d stuck it under his coat. The storekeeper always wanted them with their heads intact. He had a little shed over to the side of the store building that people hung their rabbits in.
When they got to the store and hung their rabbits they went in and told him how many they had and gave him their list. He walked outside and went in and looked at the rabbits from the door and counted them. He said, somebody’s counted wrong this time, you’ve got eleven instead of ten.
Mama said her brother spoke up and said alrighty, we got enough to get us somethin good this time. The storekeeper told him ye sure do, so pick out what ye want. Her brother pointed to a big jar of candy sitting on the counter and said we want a whole, paper bag of that candy. He filled their list and the bag of candy and they headed home. The candy was chocolate drops and can still be bought today, especially around Christmas time and they’re rich as can be.
On the way home they eat the whole bag of chocolate drops and by the time they got home they were sicker than a buzzard. They started puking and they puked all night. My grandma didn’t know what in the world to think. She was up with em all night trying to clean up the messes and do what she could for em.
The next morning they felt and looked like death warmed over. When grandma seen they were on the mend she asked em what did they eat to get so sick. They’d been taught all of their life not to lie and knew if they did they’d be in worse shape than they already were so they told her the truth. She marched them back over the road to the store and made em tell the storekeeper what they’d done. He just stood there and looked at em for a bit and then he spoke up and said, well I guess they’ve been punished enough this time but it better not happen again.
From that day forward they didn’t take another rabbit without its head and they never eat another chocolate drop as long as they lived.
To say times were rough is an understatement but they survived the best way they knew how and mama said they never went to bed hungry a night in their life. They always had something to eat even if it was an old possum baked in the oven. I guess that’s why she hated the sight of an ole possum. Back then times were so hard they had to make do.
© Susie Swanson, 2018
The above pic is one of my mom and her dad and mom (my grandparents) back when she was a young woman. ~Susie~