Depression? What’s a Depression?
by Deane McGowen
When I was asked to write a little something about how it was being a ten year old boy in Forestville during the depression I thought; this should be easy. I’ll just tell a few “poor stories” and how hard we had to work and let it go at that.
I was born in the County Hospital in Santa Rosa and brought home to live in Forestville in 1925. I have no memories of anytime before the “Great Depression”.
My parents were poor economically but rich in love for each other, their family and their church. I was rich. Oh, I new there were other kid’s that seemed to have more toys and better clothes than I had but by and large most all of us were in the same shape. It was a tough time for our parents.
As I grow older I continually see how much our parents gave up to try to protect us from the hardships of rough times.
Living on a farm we never seemed to lack for good eating. My mother saw to that. She was an exceptionally good cook. Her mother died when Mom was 15 or 16 and I understand my mother had to take over the cooking chores for the family.
She made all our bread. No fancy breadmaker or even an oven thermostat. She stuck her hand in the oven of the old woodburner range and counted how long it took for her hand to be uncomfortable and knew when it was time to put the bread or cakes or pies in. Her bread was so good that she had to make a bunch of rolls to eat hot with the homemade butter or we’d eat all her bread up the first day.
Living on an apple ranch we had lots of apple pies and I can remember she always made extra crust and baked it for a treat for us kids. For some reason we never had chickens but we had lots of ducks and Mom would do a lot of her cooking with duck eggs.
We always had lots of company that just happened by at mealtime. As I mentioned we didn’t have chickens but we had a chicken house in which my older brother Bud used to raise his Future Farmer project Poland China hogs. My brother Glade and I used to try to ride those old pigs, but that’s another story. My Dad was very good at butchering those pigs so we always had pork to eat.
Our beef, Mom was able to buy from the butcher downtown. For their “heavy shopping” they would go into Santa Rosa. I will never forget going through the groceries when they got home. Usually Mom would buy us a can of Malted Milk Mix; I think it was either Thompson’s or Horlicks.
The best thing was that it always came with a toy of some sort. I especially remember an aviator’s helmet with goggles. That was a big deal to a little kid. For some reason when I get writing about food I sort of forget we did other things besides eat.
My usual “attire” was J.C. Penny overalls, Some hand-me-downs but some new. (Church and other dress-up times you know) We went bare footed most of the time. Mostly by choice but our parents were happy to see our “sneakers” last a little longer too. Our feet got like leather. We could step on a rock and just about make sparks.
I can remember one time we were up on top of our hill with a kid from the big city, (either San Francisco or Santa Rosa) and we were all bare foot. There was one spot to cross that had a LOT of stickers and the tenderfoot was afraid to cross. Well, we helpful country boys told him if he ran real fast the stickers wouldn’t get him and we got back and got set and ran to the other side to show him.
Of course with our “iron feet” we could have walked through just about anything with no problem. He got back to where he could get up a lot of speed and started across. As soon as he hit that patch he knew he was in trouble and tried to stop, but his momentum carried him to the center of the stickers and he was afraid to go either way so he just stood there and yelled. I think (but I’m not sure) that we carried him out to where he could “desticker”.
It may have been the same kid but I think it was a different one that Glade and I took walking one night after dark. By a prearrangement with my brother Bud we walked him close enough to a tree that Bud could let out a roar and drop a gunny sack on the kid. The kid started yelling and running and never stopped till he got home and told our parents about it, which got us in a little trouble but I think they really thought it was kind of funny too.
We used to walk to the Russian River quite a lot to go swimming. I didn’t know how to swim but Glade and his friends were very good about taking me along with them. The biggest thing I can remember about that, is walking across a railroad trestle. They just ran across but I was so scared of falling through those ties that I practically crawled across.
I remember my first day at Forestville Grammar School. When I started first grade Glade was a big fourth or fifth grader and he and his friends would put me on a sled and 5 or 6 of them would pull me around the school yard as fast as they could go. I guess they got a kick out of the little kid falling off but I thought it was great fun and really thought I was something to be able to play with those “BIG” kids. The first few days, they did that every recess and lunch hour, then I guess the thrill wore thin. Either that or the teacher put a stop to it.
We had some hills on our place that were steep enough to go down on a homemade sled or piece of cardboard. After while that got a little too tame and we bought(for fifty cents) an old one horse buggy and took the body off so there was nothing but frame and wheels. We rode it down the road that went up to the pasture area.
We had to sit on the back axle and steer with a rope to the front wheels. Every once in a while there would be a stick or rock in the road which would make us bounce up and loose control. I can remember at least once when I woke up in front of the buggy which had gone off the road and hit a tree. At one time we even had an old car frame which we pulled up the hill with a mule and then ride down and take turns bringing the mule down to pull it back up.
I wasn’t all fun and games. We also had a lot of work to do. One of my jobs was to bring the cow down from the pasture to be milked. I got so I would ride the old cow down to the barn which went fine until the cow stopped to eat or saw an apple it wanted which was 2 or 3 rows from the path. It was usually my job to feed the animals also. I can remember my Dad saying, after the animals eat, then we eat. Dad and Bud would prune the apple trees and Glade and I would rake up the limbs and cuttings and throw them in the brush burner which was a corrugated metal box on a sled pulled by a team of horses or mules.
After I got to be about 8 years old my dad decided I was old enough to drive the team pulling the spray rig. Trouble was after I pulled in between 4 trees so they could spray I would start getting bored and sleepy and wouldn’t pull ahead when Dad said they were ready.
After a few times I usually got woke up by being sprayed. To this day I’ve never been troubled with worms, rust or curly leaf. I don’t remember this but I remember my mother telling that when I was still having a little trouble with my speech, she told me to do something over again and better this time. I finished it and told her I was done and if she didn’t like it she could just “wump it”. (I meant lump it) Well, she wumped it; she wumped it pretty good, but after I was grown she told me she could hardly keep a straight face and couldn’t wait to tell my Dad.
One lesson I learned early in life. I did something to my brother which made him mad and he took out after me. Naturally I took off for the safety of home and Mom but just before I got there I looked back to see where he was just as he threw a big ol’ rotten apple. Splat! Right in the face. Always keep your eye on your goal. Don’t look back. Mom wasn’t too sympathetic, she knew I had done something to start it. I always did.
Though we did have to work harder and had less than most kids have today we had a good life and turned out pretty good. Of course I may be just atad prejudiced.