Writer Robert J. Hastings


My boyhood diary shows that Dad sold iron cords from door to door, "worked a day in the hay," bought a horse to break gardens (a disaster!), rented an extra lot for a garden to be planted on the shares, picked peaches, raised and sold sweet potatoes slips, traded an occasional dozen of eggs at the grocery, and hung wallpaper.

He also "painted Don Albright's house for $5," picked up a day's work now and then at the Spillertown strip mines, cut hair for boys in the neighborhood, and sold coal orders.When he had to and could, he worked intermittently on WPA . . . or picked up an occasional "relief" (welfare) order of powdered milk, grapefruit, beans, meal, and flour.

Money being scarce, we learned to save back until we had the exact amount for a purchase. That explains why Mom asked me to get fifteen cents worth of lunch meat rather than a half pound or so since we might not know exactly how much that would cost. But fifteen cents worth of navy beans, a dime loaf of bread, or twenty cents worth of bananas meant exactly what you said!…

Rarely did I feel self pity during the Depression. But one morning on my way to school I broke the tenth Commandment "thou shalt not covet . . ." I stopped at a friend's house, and while he was getting dressed, I waited in the kitchen. Unwashed dishes still sat on the table where he had eaten breakfast. Big yellow bananas filled a bowl. A package of corn flakes stood nearby. And in all its white, glistening beauty stood almost a quart of fresh, cold milk from the dairy. For a fleeting minute I questioned why there wasn't enough fresh milk for everyone. It didn't seem fair for my friend to have a whole quart left at his plate while that same morning I had gagged on condensed milk and left it uneaten in my bowl….

Kids improvised many toys in the thirties. We assembled our own kites out of brown paper and paste made of flour and water. We played street hockey with sticks and crushed tin cans and rode on homemade scooters with wheels salvaged from old roller skates. When we played marbles, we made sure no one shot with a "steelie," which in the hands of a sharpshooter could shatter and ruin the glass marbles….

Whatever was free was our recreation. This may have included playing records on our wind up victrola or listening to the Atwater Kent radio.You might watch a parachute jump at the airport or a free ball game at the city park, with perhaps a free band concert afterwards and the side attraction of a watermelon eating contest (with your hands tied behind you). The band concerts survived only the first two years of the Depression.

Or you might go out to the airport hangar to watch the dance marathon, cringe at the risks taken by the Dodge 'Em cars at the fairgrounds on Labor Day, or attend a medicine show where the hawker peddled a single elixir said to cure everything from arthritis to zymosis. There were family dinners and picnics, and occasionally four or five families would pile into the back of Ted Boles' coal truck for an overnight camping fishing trip to the Ohio River at Shawneetown or Metropolis.

Source: Robert J. Hastings, A Nickel's Worth of Skim Milk, 2, 5, 17 18

Copyright Digital History 2016