Friday, March 2, 2012

Something Different: Another Nostalgia Post Like the One at Christmas


       Lately I've been so tied up in permissions and publishing updates and the posting of sample chapters that I haven't added anything very entertaining to this blog.  So, I decided to talk about what is an archaic time for many of you denizens of cyberspace who are in your 20s or 30s or even 40s.  And the time is the 1930s.
       And no, I don't go back quite that far, but my mother did.  She was born in 1909 and graduated from high school in 1927, right before the Great Depression.  Her father (my grandfather) was in some ways enlightened for his time.  He vigorously condemned smoking, saying that putting all that tar and nicotine into your lungs would kill you, and he counseled my mother  that she shouldn't count on having a man to support her and and should develop some way to make a living on her own.
       When she first graduated from high school, she worked in a shop as a salesperson (a totally different story that I may elaborate on someday), but after three years of this she decided she didn't want to do that all her life, so she went to college -- the same college that I attended many years later.  It was here in Colorado Springs where I live now -- the Colorado College, a small, private, liberal arts institution that is well respected throughout the United States.  She started in 1930 and graduated in 1934 -- right in the depths of the Depression.  My grandfather, who was a real estate broker, gave the College a house that he owned to help pay her tuition.
       My mother majored in Romance languages, taking four years of Spanish, three years of French, and two years of Italian, and became a secondary school teacher.  But when she graduated, she couldn't find a job and even resorted to taking a cosmetology course and working in a beauty shop for a while.  Finally, however, she got a job -- I think it was 1936 -- in a tiny town in southeast Colorado called Hartman.  I believe it still exists today.  Anybody out there in Hartman reading this?
       Remember, this was not only the Depression, it was the Dust Bowl, and southeast Colorado was right in the heart of the Dust Bowl.  The town was losing people, but it did have a consolidated school -- grade school and high school all in one building, I believe (I couldn't swear to some of this).  The superintendent was a woman and she proceeded to tell my mother that she would not only be teaching Spanish and English (obviously in a school of that size one had to teach more than first and second year Spanish) -- she would also have to direct all the school plays, teach algebra, coach girls' PE, and (because my mother could play the piano) direct the glee club ("choir" to you)!  My mother always said that she needed the job so badly that she would have swept the floors if her superiors had asked her!
       She was always good in math, fortunately, and could manage the algebra, but the text book that they were using had no answer book!  So the first year she had to work out every problem herself before she could correct the students' exercises!  It wasn't exactly easy!
        The school was so small that everybody could know everybody else.  If there was a play practice, students had to have a note from their parents saying they could  stay late at night.  After the practice, they would make hot cocoa and stand around and "chew the fat" ("talk," to you).  The glee club consisted of a lot of singing around the piano.  There was radio, of course, but no other electronic gizmos.  The girls played softball or exercised indoors for PE.  The boys all thought my mother was beautiful, and I'm sure she was -- people told her she looked like Greta Garbo. 
       Another thing a teacher had to do in those days (at least if they were the sponsor of the junior class) was manage the Junior-Senior Prom, which required picking a theme (I think my mother used a Dutch theme once, and once a Hawaiian theme, or maybe it was pirates).  Plans could be bought from companies that specialized in that sort of thing, but you still had to make lots of crepe-paper decorations.  There was also a competition at Christmas for the best home-room decorations and I believe my mother won it consistently.  You could even have a nativity scene in those days and nobody objected.  Of course, I doubt if there were very many people in that area at that time that didn't have a Christian background.
       One thing you didn't want to do was get caught in a dust storm.  My mother said you could see them rolling in across the prairie.  Things would get as black as night  and the dust would sift in under the doors and on the windowsills.  My mother bought her first car in 1937 -- a little Ford that cost $600.00 (quite a sum when you're making $100.00/month on a 9-month contract) -- because without transportation she was really stuck in Hartman.  One time she said she went to a nearby town and a dust storm rolled in and she didn't think she would ever get home.  But obviously she made it.
      My mother stayed in that school for four years and went back later during World War II and taught there another two years.  She always said it was one of the happiest times of her life.  It was a different time, for sure.   But it only goes to show that happiness does not depend on high technology or instant communication; it depends on human relationships and the sense of fulfillment one gains from a rewarding job.  I wouldn't want to go back to that time (because of medical advances, for one thing; even penicillin hadn't been discovered yet), but there are positive aspects to that kind of lifestyle that perhaps we have lost today.


  1. Interestiing. My mother was born in 1918 and the Depression very much shaped her life - she was supporting her parents from age 18. She scraped through art school, while working as an advertising director. Difficult years that left a lasting imprint on her. Glad you linked up!!

    1. It's funny, but my mother always said she was happier in the Depression than at any other time of her life! I think it was because she was out on her own, earning her own money, enjoying her work, and doing what she wanted to do.