Dad’s Stories about the Depression

To be truthful, I didn’t know how this trip with my dad would go.  I thought he might not like not having control of driving, but he doesn’t seem to mind.  And one of the benefits of the trip is the stories that he tells.

My younger sister and I have been trying to get Dad to write down his family stories for quite a while, but with little success.  He really is quite busy for 85, but I don’t think that’s the reason he doesn’t write the stories down.  On this road trip, though, things stir his memory and he talks.

I don’t know a lot about Dad’s family on his mom’s side, the DeVaults, although he talks with affection about all of them, so I got a notebook and asked him to write down the relationships.  He started talking about Grandma DeVault, my great-grandma, and then along came Uncle Jim and Aunt Jenny.

See?  That’s part of the problem.  I have never heard of Uncle Jim and Aunt Jenny before.

Turns out, Uncle Jim was a Wilson, Gread-grandma DeVault’s brother.  Jenny was his sister. She moved in with Jim after her husband died. They lived behind my great-grandmother’s farm on Uncle Jim’s farm.  When Dad went to visit his grandmother, he would visit them, too. 

Theirs is not the first story I have heard of my ancestors helping one another.  The Depression was hard on both sides of my family, but my mother’s family was able to move out to the country and farm, so their property was saved.  Dad’s dad, on the other hand, worked for Owen’s-Illinois, and they ended up losing their house on East Park Avenue in Fairmont and moving to Bridgeton, New Jersey.

Before they moved, though, my grandparents struggled, both to hold on to their house and to help their family.  My grandmother’s sisters and their children lived their for a while.  And that led to some really good memories for my dad.

His cousin Barbara lived with them for a while.  She was a teen, and he remembers her taking up the rug in the parlor and inviting her friends over to dance.  He was about seven at the time.  Grandma and Grandpa had a Victrola that had to be cranked, but Dad smiled as those teens dance in his memory.

Seems Barbara had a boyfriend who was on the football team, one Patsy Jones.  My Uncle Ronald, who was about four at the time, would pick up a pillow in the parlor, run through the open French doors into the dining room, and slam down his pillow for a touchdown, all in imitation of Patsy.  My uncle always wore a smile and  when I see him do this, in my mind’s eye, he looks remarkably like my grandson, also named Ronald. (It’s that famous RJ smile.)

Barbara had a brother named Herman who also lived with my grandparents for a while.  He was good with wood.  (He and Dad spent time with their Grandpa DeVault, who was a carpenter by trade.  Is a talent with wood hereditary?)  Anyway, Herman, as a teenager, must have longed for his own space, and he found it.  He found scraps of lumber and built himself a desk, setting up an “office” in the garage.  Herman had time for my dad and his brother, though.  Dad says he built a trapeze in the garage, and he and his brother had fun going out there and “skinning the cat,” probably just basking in the presence of their older cousin.

One of the benefits of this summer in all its hectic activity has been that, in order to survive it, the hubby and I have had to live in the moment.  These moments with my dad are precious ones.  This trip, with time flowing through my fingers like water, is totally worth it.  Dad’s parents did end up losing their home and having to move, which must have been traumatic, but that’s not what he remembers most.  What he remembers is their pulling together.  And that’s a legacy that’s totally worth having.

2 Responses to “Dad’s Stories about the Depression”

  1. 1 Carol J. Garvin August 11, 2010 at 2:26 am

    Your account reminds me of my father who spent a winter month alone at his remote lakeside home. He set up a tape recorder on the kitchen table and each morning as he made breakfast he talked, recording memories and incidents that were important to him. My father died several years ago, and my son now has the series of tape cassettes from that winter hiatus, and treasures them.

    It’s past my bedtime and I can’t make my brain dredge up the source of the quotation about not knowing where we’re going in life if we don’t know where we came from. But there’s truth in it. It’s good to know about our family roots… not just names and dates of our ancestors, but who they were as individuals, and how they lived. You’re blessed by this time with your father.

    • 2 Becky August 11, 2010 at 5:52 am

      I was just discussing knowing where you came from with my niece, who was concerned that her young nephew had no idea about how anyone outside of his immediate family related to him. It does help to know people as individuals. I’m glad your son has those tapes of your father’s as part of his heritage.

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