Recently I came face to face with the effect of our economic downturn. Exiting a local restaurant in our small town, I saw a car parked next to mine with a young man in the driver’s seat. I hardly noticed the other passenger, but as I opened my door, I heard a voice behind me. “Ma’am, ma’am, could you help us?”
I turned to see a plain looking older woman, her lined face worried and beseeching as she hurried around the other car.
“What can I help you with?” I asked.
“Can you help us get some gas? We used our last dollar for gas and we don’t have enough to get to Franklin. We just need enough gas to get to Franklin.”
I looked into the car at the young man, his dark head down, eyes averted, slumped behind the wheel. It was obvious he was embarrassed that his grandmother, or whoever the older woman was, had to beg for a few dollars to buy gas. In thirteen years living in the mountains I’ve never had anyone ask me for a handout. I knew this was not a con job. In my experience, a mountain woman such as this would be way too proud to ask for money unless she desperately needed help.
This incident reminded me of the stories my father told me about the days of the Great Depression. My parents ran a filling station and store in a small town in South Georgia in the 1920’s. They had three children. Business was good at first, but as people lost their jobs, and often their homes, customers stopped coming. However, men who had no money often came and asked for a free meal.
“Most of these men were from up north and were going to Florida hoping to find work,” Mother told me. “They had left their families behind and rode the freight trains, hiding in boxcars to get a free ride.”
I remember hearing an old song by Jimmy Davis, an early country music singer, whose song asked the question, “Will there be any hobos in Heaven?” His words told the story of these men who rode the trains looking for work.
I’ll never forget the sadness in Mother’s eyes as she spoke of these homeless people. Being good-hearted, my parents always fed those who were in need. No one came to buy groceries from the store, but the cans and boxes of staple goods on the shelves of my parents’ store fed my own family until they were gone. My father, who was a frustrated farmer even then, also raised chickens and kept a cow.
I came along many years later but I often heard my father tell why he wouldn’t eat chicken. “Your mother cooked chicken every way she knew how,” he said. “We ate so much chicken that I got enough of it to last me the rest of my life.”
Like many families are doing today, my aunt Judy and Uncle Jimmy and Mother and Daddy still found ways to enjoy life during the depression. On weekends they came together and played Croquet. "We laughed and laughed," Aunt Judy said, just as if the country was not self-destructing around them.
I have friends who are carefully planning for hard times. They not only make a huge organic garden, they save rain water and heat with their own homemade solar system. I might try my hand growing some of those topsy-turvy tomatoes on my deck. With the price of food growing ever higher, more and more folks are planting gardens and finding ways to cut costs. I wonder what else I can raise in a pot on the small sunny spot on my porch.