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The Great Depression, World War II Years Were Times of Hardship For Many People

I was born March 22, 1938 and grew up through the last years of the Great Depression and World War II was raging during those early years in my life. The Great Depression began with the Stock Market crash on October 29, 1929 and lasted until the early 1940s. World War II began September 1, 1939 and ended September 2, 1945. Both the Depression and the War brought hardship to many people.
A large number of folks lost their life savings as a result of the Crash. Joblessness was rampant and money was scarce. The war years were marked by frugality and many items were rationed to help the war effort. I am old enough to remember rationing. Folks were issued ration coupons and were only permitted to buy a set amount or quantity of a product. Some items that were rationed were tires, gasoline, fuel oil, kerosene, shoes, sugar and coffee. During th
e war some car manufacturers were retooled to produce military vehicles and consequently new cars were not available.
But through these difficult years, the folks of Johnson County were probably better off than many others — especially people from large cities. In many ways Johnson County citizens were largely self-sufficient. I’ve heard it said by some who were adults in Johnson County during that time that their lives were no different then than any other times.
From a personal viewpoint, I remember there were hardships, but we as a family never knew better times, so we didn’t know how bad it was during those difficult times. I will always remember how hard my parents worked to keep food on the table and other necessities. Of course, my older brother and I would pitch in and work, as our abilities allowed. There wasn’t a lot of money and we could afford no luxuries. We were pleased with any little extra things such as candy or soft drinks once in a while.
During those times everyone worked to make a go of it, but I especially believe it was most difficult for women because they not only kept the house clean and the meals cooked but often worked in the fields as well.
My Mother, Carrie Harper Swift, always washed our clothes on Mondays and took almost all of Tuesday for ironing. A small stream, a tributary of Doe Creek, was several yards at the foot of a hill in front of our modest house. In those early days, when the weekly washday came around, my mother would go down by the stream where a large iron pot was kept. She would fill the iron pot with water from the stream, build a fire under the pot and wait until the water was hot. She would cut chips of lye soap into the hot water and using a washboard, she would scrub our clothes to get them clean. A washboard was a corrugated metal board on which the clothes were rubbed up and down to clean them. After being washed and rinsed, the clothes were then hung on a clothesline to dry. It took most of the day and a lot of effort. There was no electricity at our house until about the mid 1940s; therefore we had no washing machine or dryer.
The next day was ironing day. Unlike today when no-iron clothes are readily available, in those days almost every item of clothing required ironing. Irons were heated on a wood-fueled cook stove since there was no electricity. A broom and mop were all we had to clean our linoleum-covered floors. I don’t think vinyl flooring had come along.
I could list many other inconveniences in our household during those times, but as the saying goes: “You don’t miss what you never had.” At that time there were many others as well living without electricity and the inventions we all take for granted today. Having experienced some of the hardships of those times, I really appreciate the work-saving devices we have today. My mother passed away June 1, 2000, at the age of 93. Mothers Day is next Sunday and as I write this column, I am especially mindful of the sacrifices my mother made for me.