The Great Depression began in October of 1929 when the stock values in the United States dropped rapidly. Thousands of stockholders lost large sums of money-or were even wiped out. Many people had to depend on the government or charity for food. Many of the stories about the Depression have been told about the large cities and their struggles to live a life of poverty after being used to the luxurious lifestyle. However, those accounts do not reflect the true damage caused by this economic plunge. The many "country folk" that inhabit the area around Tennessee had a somewhat different recollection of this time period. The stories told by the people who had lost all of their money in the stock market are stories of doom and despair, but those told by the people who didn't have anything to begin with are filled with memories of family and friends helping one another in a time of need. In a personal interview with my grandmother, Vergie Matherly (eighty-seven years old) whom I call "Nanny", I learned first-hand what the Depression was like in a small community located in a very isolated area. Her accounts of family struggle seem to dwarf those accounts of the rich tycoons who lost it all in the stock market. A book entitled Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930's contains several pages of anecdotes written by various people who lived in small towns during this time. This book goes hand in hand with the memories of my Nanny.
In 1929, Vergie got married at the age of 17 to a man by the name of Jim. Jim was a coal miner in Hampton, Tennessee, and was injured when the mine collapsed on top of him. Vergie recalls this accident,
They had to take five wheelbarrows of stuff off of him right here (motioning to her lower back). He couldn't walk no more and he could just lay in bed and when he needed to sit up, we had to prop him up. He died, the stuff crushed his insides.
Before the death of her husband, Vergie had to do anything possible for money, because Jim was unable to work in his condition. She took up the job of washing and ironing for several of the CC boys. When asked how much she made from doing this laundry, she replied, "I washed for nine of them (CC Boys) and uh, a dollar and a half a piece." That is a lot more money than most of the people could make during this hard time. The death of her husband brought a single check from the government for the amount of thirty seven dollars. The money that she earned was used to buy some food, mainly "beans and potatoes and cornbread, milk and butter and eggs." Food was in the most part grown right there at the house. A small garden provided the necessary vegetables, a cow provided milk, and chickens provided eggs and Sunday dinner. The animals were primarily kept for the services that they provided, but when they needed food, the cows, chickens, and pigs were there for the eatin'. Rita Van Amber, the author of Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930's, quotes a...