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Making Ends Meet: Local resident recalls the Great Depression

March 7, 2010
By MIKE DONAHEY, TIMES-REPUBLICAN

Editor's Note: "Making Ends Meet" is a three part series about central Iowa residents coping with the recession. This is the second in a series of three articles. Today's story is a retrospective from a Marshalltown resident about living on a farm during the Great Depression.

"Things have changed over the years, that's life for you," were the words Rose Everett of Marshalltown used frequently in talking about growing up on farm during the Great Depression.

She was prepared to talk.

Article Photos

"There's nothing like being in your own home," she said, as she sat down.

The stories she told were bittersweet.

She was a teen when it began. Now in her 90's, Everett has a vivid memory about a dark time in American history of bank failings, drought, foreclosures, insect plagues and high unemployment.

While Everett remarked many times during the conversation, that "times were hard," conversely, her overall recollections of the time on the farm then were more affirmative than negative, due in large part to a tight-knit family and a positive attitude.

Importantly, for every job she described which was hard for her or family, she would also remark that it was part of life on a farm during the Great Depression.

Words like "everyone had their daily chores," "you put-up with it," "we had to do it," described how she and her parents, two brothers and two sisters lived.

Everett emphasized that the family was adept about using the land's bounty, from finding wild strawberries to her brother's hunting skills to having a large garden. A grove of trees provided wood for the family's cook stove and heating.

They grew potatoes, their main source of food during the winter. Canned food from the garden was also used. The family raised chickens and other poultry.

When work was done the family did many things together, she said, from playing cards, eating popcorn and peanuts, to getting together with neighbors.

"My dad loved to play Pitch," she said.

The family lived two miles outside of Verdigre, a small town in northeast Nebraska near the South Dakota border. Verdigre calls itself the "Kolach Kapital of the World" in reference to the renowned pastry made by Czechs and Slovaks who settled the area.

Everett's grandparents also emigrated from Czechoslovakia.

"They left because of a lack of food," she said. "The voyage over was hard. They spoke of having to throw dead people overboard, they had no other choice."

Her grandparents lived in Chicago for awhile before moving west.

Everett said her family frequently shipped eggs back to Chicago in special containers, to thank those who had helped the family years before.

She has fond memories of staying with her grandmother, who lived in another house not far from the main farm house.

"She would scoot around in a wheel chair and that is how she got work done," Everett said. "She would watch us while my father and mother were working in the field. I'll never forget that."

"Every Easter I think of her," she said. "We ate a lot of onions and grandmother would save the peelings from the yellow onions. She would soak them in water, which would turn like a cream color. We would color our Easter eggs from that."

After many years, her parents, too, hold a special place in her heart.

"I had the most wonderful parents, Dad and Mother," she said. They never scolded us. They would sit us down and talk to us, about what was right and what was wrong." I've always admired them for that."

Another fond memory was her mother's cooking.

"She was number one at cooking and baking," she said. "Before mom and dad were married, she worked at a place in town where she did that."

She remembered her dad taking her and siblings to the nearby town school on a sleigh in the winter time. They used heated bricks to keep warm. Other times, they walked the four-mile round trip.

She also was grateful for the example they set for their children. "They got us ready to be grown-up people," she said.

Corn and wheat were the two main crops grown.

"We always had a good crop of corn," she said. "Twice our wheat was hailed-out."

Nature was not kind in other ways, plaques of grasshoppers would come, and there were sandstorms so fierce everyone had to stay inside. Tumble-weeds lined their fence. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Cinch-bugs were found on their potatoes several times.

"It was a nasty job to do, but we had to do it," she said, describing picking the bugs off by hand.

She traveled back to the family farm several years ago. Her grandmother's house is gone, but her family's house is still standing, albeit remodeled.

"It was not the home place we were used to," she said. "And the school, it's still standing and it's beautiful."

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@ timesrepublican.com

 
 

 

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