An Interview With My Grandmother; The Great Depression
I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to write a blog post before. Yesterday, I had the privilege of interviewing my (as of today) 93-year old grandma, Betty Linley. I would like to take this opportunity to say, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GRANDMA!!!” As well as, “Thank you so much for allowing me to pick your brain for nearly 45 minutes yesterday, during a rare moment of peace and quiet at my house.” As many of you will recall from a previous post I wrote, I’ve been learning more and more about the Great Depression this past year. What our country went through, what individual families went through, and how the whole experience shaped future generations. A few days after posting my blog entry, my aunt Mary remarked that if I hadn’t already done so, I should really talk to my grandma, because she had some incredible stories to tell. And I thought, “why not?” I have so.much.respect.for the women in the early and mid-twentieth century. They raised families without any modern conveniences. When the men went away to war, they took over the men’s jobs AND continued raising their families. They made do with what they had, and if they couldn’t afford something, they went without. After getting off the phone with my grandma yesterday, I felt humbled beyond measure just looking over my hastily scrawled notes. If put to the test, could I provide a life for my husband and children, the way she and her mother did? I truly don’t know.
Without further ado, here is the interview with my grandma, Elizabeth (Betty) Kratchowill Linley. My questions are bolded.
When and where were you born?
February 26, 1925, in Muscoda, Wisconsin. I was born at home; a doctor came to the house and delivered me.
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Two brothers, no sisters.
What did your parents do for a living?
My mother was a housewife. My father was a carpenter, and he built homes and buildings. We didn’t have a car, but we had an old Ford truck that my father would use for work. Whenever we went somewhere as a family, my parents would sit on the bench inside the cab, and we kids would ride in the back of the trunk.
How was your family affected by the Great Depression? How were your neighbors affected?
We lived in a small town, and we lived off the land. My mother had a garden, and she grew fruits and vegetables. We had chickens for a while, too. My mother canned everything she grew, as well as meat. Money was very, very tight. There were no steady jobs for my father, and other carpenters in town would compete for jobs. My father had to significantly lower his prices so he could find work. Our neighbors were lucky, though. The father had a permanent job. Your grandpa’s family really struggled a lot. Grandpa had asthma as a child, so he was very limited in what he could do. He came from a family with seven children, and in addition to raising the little ones, his mother took a job as a housekeeper to make ends meet.
What did YOUR family have to do to make ends meet?
My mother had to be a great economist. She did absolutely everything on her own; she made a dollar stretch as far as possible, she raised her own food, she cooked her own meals. There was no “going out to eat” back then. Every single meal was eaten at home. She made her own pasta; I don’t quite know how she did it, but I think she took some flour, water, and eggs, and mixed it up. She would roll out the dough, and hang it up to dry. When it was dry, she would cut it into the pasta shapes that we needed for dinner that night.
My mother knew how to knit and sew, and that was all we wore. She knit all of our mittens and caps, and she hand sewed all of our clothes. I remember one time, I think I must have been in high school, my mother took me to a seamstress. I had a dress made for me, and it was a more elaborate design.
What skills were necessary for everyone, male and female, to know back then?
You had to know how to raise and grow your own food, and cook your own meals. The women had to know how to do everything around the house, and the men had to be very versatile in all their skills, if they wanted to find a job. We didn’t have refrigeration back then, only ice boxes. In the winter, if men wanted to earn extra money, they would go to the river and cut large blocks of ice. Then would take the blocks of ice back home with them, and roll them in sawdust, and then put them into ice houses for the rest of the winter. Then they could sell them during the summer, in order to preserve food.
What was the medical care like when you were a child?
There was no hospital in Muscoda, and most people back then didn’t have cars. There was always at least one doctor in town, and people would go to his office for appointments or illnesses, unless the illness was severe. In that case, he would come to your house. Childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough were extremely common. If there was a child who had a contagious disease, the house would be quarantined for at least two weeks.
Do you feel that the Great Depression had a negative effect on your childhood?
No, because I really didn’t know anything different. I didn’t realize there was any other type of living. We were a happy family. I don’t know how she did it, I never did know, but my mother always managed to have a gift for everyone at Christmas and on birthdays. She must have really saved throughout the year to manage that. Back then, gifts were ordered from the Sears or the Montgomery Ward catalogues. No one had charge accounts, or credit cards. If you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t buy it.
Did anything good come out of your experience?
We learned to get along with what we had. We never bought things we couldn’t afford, and since I worked after high school, I had some money saved up when Grandpa and I got married. We didn’t have any debt.
How did your childhood during the Great Depression carry over to your adult life?
Well, as I said, we never bought anything we couldn’t pay for in cash, except for a car and our house. Grandpa and I struggled after we were married, because teachers salaries were so small, and we really lived paycheck to paycheck. (*After returning back home after WWII, my grandpa got a job teaching math at Marinette High School). We took the money that I saved before marriage and we used that towards a down payment on our house. We tried to pass our ways on to our children. Your dad always had a job; he worked at a gas station while he was going to college. Despite everything my mother did, though, I didn’t really know how to cook! After we were married, the very first thing your grandpa bought me was a cookbook.
(You guys. This picture....it’s everything. Left to right, front row: my grandparents, Betty and Michael Linley. Back row, left to right: my dad in his hideous 70’s pants, my aunt Mary, my uncle Tim with his hippie hair, and my uncle Steve with his super special glasses).
Do you have any advice for my generation?
Well...I don’t really know. It’s such a different world nowadays. People live differently. I would still say, don’t overextend yourself too much. Plan ahead according to your income. I grew up within the era of a budget, and I think that’s something everyone should have.
Grandma, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story with me. I love you so much, and I couldn’t be more proud to be your granddaughter.
Grandpa, Grandma and I, 1982
Grandma and I, 1981 (I think)
Grandma and Grandpa, later in life.
*I would like to thank my aunt Mary for supplying me with photos from my Grandma’s childhood, and my mom for the last three photos. Much appreciated!!!