The Great Depression and World War II Shaped My Grandma's Life
My grandma, Alma Jean, was born in 1935 in Silo, Oklahoma, just outside of Durant. Her birth certificate says she was born in Durant because Silo was too small to be considered a real town. She lived there on a farm with her parents, Orval and Maggie Dale.
It was the middle of the Great Depression, and they were a farming family at a time when it seemed like no one could make a living off the land. To supplement their income, Orval and his father worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). President Roosevelt set up the WPA the same year that my grandma was born (Divine 760). The WPA was similar to other work relief programs such as the CCC, PWA, CWA and NYA. All were established to provide jobs for the unemployed. However, the WPA was unique because it was the first program to also address the needs of artists, writers, and actors. These people were employed by the WPA to capture and portray the culture and events of the United States at that time (761).
As a result of the Depression, Americans learned to be resourceful. People would make clothes out of flour sacks and homes out of cardboard and metal scraps (Conlin 686). They grew gardens and hunted for their food instead of buying it at the store. Some people even sold apples in the city streets to earn money (Current 731).
One of the weirdest things about my grandma is that she likes to eat squirrel brains. But it makes sense. When she was little they didn't have money to buy meat, so her dad would go hunting all the time. He'd catch jackrabbits and squirrels and whatever else he could find, and that's what they ate. So my grandma grew up eating squirrels (and their brains). It was normal to her. They did whatever they had to do to get by.
Thanks to her father's hunting, my grandma also received her first coat. Her dad would sell the skins from the animals he caught. One winter, Maggie (his wife), used the money to buy my grandma a new red coat.
However, despite their efforts, the family couldn't afford to stay in Oklahoma. Like many families during the Great Depression, they had to move to survive. In 1933, there were 5,190 bank failures in the U.S. (Divine 755) and unemployment was at 25 percent (Conlin 684). In 1930 a drought hit much of the South and Midwest. It lasted ten years and turned America's farmland into an unproductive wasteland (Current 737). The drought area came to be known as the Dust Bowl (736).
This, combined with the high unemployment and collapsed economy of the Depression, forced families to leave their farms in search of work. In 1932, one in four families living in the Dust Bowl was forced off its land (Conlin, 685). Most of them headed to California (686). They were called "Okies" and once they got to California, things usually weren't much better.
Work was hard to find, and because of California's seasonal crops, it didn't last long. They lived migrant lives, following...