Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Great Depression

written in 1993 by Mary KERR Krentz

Evelyn and Mary Kerr in the 1930s

When we heard a knock on the back door, we knew immediately that someone was hungry.

It was 1933, four long years since the stock market crash, and still no end in sight for the Great Depression that rocked our world. More than twelve million people lost their jobs, and ultimately lost everything they owned. Over 5000 banks failed, and 32,000 businesses went bankrupt. Men sold apples, at five cents apiece, on street corners to earn a few cents to buy milk and bread for their children. Many of them hopped freight trains, going from city to city hoping to find work.

Some people called them bums. A more dignified name was hoboes. They were good men who simply were down on their luck. When they knocked on our door... never the front door, as a guest, but on the back door as a beggar... they would say, "Could you spare a bite to eat? I haven't eaten in two days." And Mom would always fix them a plate of food.

We were a bit more lucky than most. Dad worked as a buyer for the City of Detroit, and the work of government must go on. Although there was no money in the treasury to pay these workers, the government printed what was called scrip. It looked like money, and shopkeepers accepted it in exchange for food or merchandise. It was accepted everywhere simply because some method of exchange was necessary.

Visit DepressionScrip to learn more about scrip
and to see examples from other places.

Ten dollars was our weekly food budget. Mom was a super manager, for with this amount we bought groceries to feed our family of four, plus anyone who stopped by, or was invited at mealtime. She could even make leftovers look like a gourmet feast.

In those desperate days people helped each other. Even the hoboes would leave a chalkmark on the curb in front of a house where they were fed, so that those who came after them would know where they would be welcome. We didn't learn about that until much later, although we sometimes wondered how so many found their way to our house.

The most amazing part of those years was the fact that we never felt poor. We made do or did without and never thought too much about it. It was a way of life, and we were all in it together. We found joy in the simple things... things that were free. We entertained at home, enjoying simple party games and conversation. We listened to the radio, or read, or took long walks, or played ball in the street, or skated down the sidewalk. We played tag or hide and seek in the evenings and never felt sorry for ourselves.

And we all pitched in when it came to earning money. Mom rented out one of our bedrooms for five dollars a week. And by the time I was twelve, I was able to earn a little bit by babysitting, and by putting handbills on the doorknobs of houses to advertise the week's grocery specials at the C. F. Smith store. I walked six or more miles, up and down the steps of each house, and when I finished the job, I was paid twenty-five cents.


Originally published in The Krenz Intermittent (Volume 1, Number 1 - January 1997), this is part of a manuscript my mother wrote about her childhood memories.


Click for more on
How the Great Depression Changed Detroit.


Jasia said...

Wonderfully written. It sounds like the stories my own mother told me about growing up during the depression. Thank you for sharing and touching my heart.

Apple said...

Wonderful article. My mother has told me of the men that came looking for food. Always men, never women. I wonder how their families fared while they were looking for work?

T.K. said...

Thank you, ladies! Interesting point, Apple, about it being men who came looking for food. I found this interesting bit about Riding the Rails which says there were about two million men who were hoboes but only about 8000 women. That doesn't really answer the question, though, does it?

Laura said...

This is wonderful! Thank you for posting...I especially love the grocery receipt, that is great that it survived.

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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