The story of my family buying cars during the Depression really made me think. That story was often told to me, with pride, by my mother. She now, and for some years, has had Alzheimer's Disease. So, when I recall things she used to tell me, they are often with a sad little realization, as for all intents and purposes, she is no longer here.
My off-hand comment was made during a discussion we were having about how times or decades often wear a certain look and we assume that it was that way for all. Someone was mentioning the conditions of their family during the Depression. So, of course, I thought of that story. It showed that everyone had a different situation during that time, much like I have continued to discover about the 1950’s.
I think what most surprised and hurt me was that my casual reference to a story my mother loved to tell me became a catalyst for someone ( who claims to have both liked my blog and me) to turn their anger and hatred towards me. Why do we feel the need, particularly in this digital age, to run so hot and cold with emotion? The step from casual enjoyment to killing outrage seems a short step today. I have witnessed such jumps even in public on employees in stores, “yes, lovely day…WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE THAT IN STOCK!”
What I find so amusing in this particular situation is this: the complete stereo-type assumed by a few remarks. My having said that my mother’s pride in her father having bought a new car in the Depression suddenly lumps them into a category in which to hate. One commenter, who was quite kind about what was said, even added:
I *will* say that I find buying new cars in an economic crisis distasteful…
This I did find funny because supposedly we are currently in an economic crisis and yet I am sure there are many new things being purchased today. It also made me think of a TV family that a follower recently told me about: The Duggars. I have not watched the show, but I googled them after a follower mentioned them. They certainly have bought not only one new vehicle, but I saw an aerial shot of their property and they have many including a very large RV. Are they cruel or evil for purchasing new during economic hard times? Have they the right to do so, or if their show is using positive ‘spin’ to represent their good values, is that all right? I am not saying anything for or against this show, as I have not seen it, but just using it as a point.
Now, the actual story, which I had not told but didn’t think I had needed to, about my mother’s parents is as follows. It is true that my grandfather bought a new car each year during the Depression, or as I recall it being told to me. However, he was not a Rockefeller. He had built up his business over time. He and my grandmother had 13 children and my mother’s pride was in the fact that he was able to feed and cloth all these children AND help his community during the Depression.
My mother’s particular pride for the new car purchase wasn’t that she felt ‘better than others’ because of it, but due to what her father had told her. He pointed out that many people were struggling and no man likes a hand-out. To return a car and to purchase a new car gave a job and money to the local man who sold cars. He was able, to those who could afford it, resale the old car for a profit, as this was his job. Also, a new car each year was adding to the economy in that there would be one more man needed on the line to make the cars. Simply hoarding what you have when the chips are down was not considered good to my grandfather. He could easily have done so, but instead was always spreading what he had around, even during the uncertain times of the Depression when one didn’t know when they might suddenly be without anything.
During the Depression, and in fact in the ‘olden days’ in general, most people did not like nor would not take hand outs. The concept of welfare was really born out of the Depression and many families would rather starve than feel they were just taking money from somewhere.
This same grandfather, who I am now suppose to feel bad about somehow, or feel less genuine because of, did many such things. The car was really just a more abstract way of helping out. It may have benefited some people far away where the cars where made, but it was important to him none-the-less. It definitely helped the local man who sold the cars have something to make a higher profit on, a one year old car sold locally to anyone who could afford it, was a good source of income.
These grandparents did many such things during the Depression. They often bought fruit and ‘treats’ and handed them out to children. This, however, did not want to be seen as charity either, so my Grandfather would have the children invite over the other less fortunate children to dinner or to play where they could receive such gifts in a way that seemed natural and not offensive to their parents.
They also built a new house during this time. That statement, much like the car, could easily have been given a chance remark, “Oh, he thinks he is so great”. But, as mother liked to point out, it provided so many jobs locally for families to build and feel the pride of earning their money. This was even somewhat of a strain on them financially, but he felt it important for his community and his family. He even added new ice houses where fish were stored (this was part of his business) so that more local men could be paid to cut ice for it. In those days, even though they had refrigeration, they still used ice houses where they would cut ice from local waters in the winter and store it in sawdust. This was good honest work, my grandfather knew it and had, himself, once done it. This was another way to provide locally for people without it seeming to be a handout.
My grandmother also bought and made new clothes for my mother and her siblings in order to have newer things to give away locally. This allowed one to casually say, “Oh, sally outgrew this, I bet it would fit your Betsy” and the mother receiving it would not feel she was receiving charity. Just as the dinners she would host when she would ask her children to bring their ‘friends home’.
My mother remembers a few smelly boys she did not consider her friends but her mother insisted on her inviting them over as friends. They would receive meals and be less mouths to feed at home without it seeming charity. Billy is at Sally’s house for dinner is much kinder to think of than a child in a soup line.
At the time, my mother didn’t quite understand, but as she grew older she did and that was when she felt the pride. This left an impression on her and I recall, when I was little, going with my mother when she did various charity things including working for hours at a local place that collected old glasses and worked with volunteer doctors for eye exams and free glasses for people who could not afford it. It was set up like a clinic or office, people could come in, greet my mother who acted, really like a nurse or receptionist at the office, and the people would feel as if they were just going to any old eye doctor. Though they never had to pay, they were treated with dignity and respect and not just simply handed some money or glasses. They had choices and were actively a part of that choice.
There were many such stories my mother told me of her parents, just as there are stories of my own parents helping others. She was proud of her family and what they did. I am too. And, even if they were horrors or even if he was a Rockefeller, how would that make me a different person? Am I not allowed to grow or change as a person because a relative did something good or bad?
That is what bothered me most about what the commenter had said, that somehow anything I did would be colored by what my grandfather did. When someone assumed the ‘type’ or ‘box’ into which they could lump my grandparents, they could not do so with me and this made them suddenly think I was not genuine. “If your grandparents bought new cars during the Depression and you are talking about Thrift now, where do I place you?”
It is harder to hate someone when you cannot place them. I don’t like to think I fit into a category, I don’t think any of us do, but yet we are always trying to do so to people. If we can pigeonhole someone it is easier to hate or like them. “Oh, they are that group, no thank you” or “Oh they are that group, I like them” I see this all the time in the blog community. Because I am now a part of the ‘vintage community’ that does not mean I automatically will like everyone who has a vintage blog and what they say or equally hate anyone who has a blog about modern things and technology. I want to always ask why and find out what is behind it all. So, my decisions are based on the merit of the thing or person and not because they fit into some pre-conceived ideal. This, however, is very hard to do. I, too, struggle with it all the time.
Maybe, in some way, because marketing and advertising groups are such a part of our modern world, we cannot help but think of people in that way. Almost like a product: Now where does this go on the shelf? “Empty headed rich person, or integrity-filled poor person.”
If my grandfather had been a Rockefeller and I grew up in the lap of luxury, would my own personal growth about thrift and realizing who I am and what the world is really like be less valid? Are we really to have a different set of rules of what is considered genuine based on someone’s bank account? Is there no growth or realization of change if someone has more money than another?
As it so happens, I myself have been a ‘working class’ girl. The very thing I am supposed to have not wanted for my phantom child that does not exist. Yet, during that time, did I love my work? Not always. Would I like to make a world for a future child where he is allowed more freedom than me? Of course. I think it should be a parents job to allow a child to have better chances then they had, and that does not mean more money.
In fact, I think I would still want my child to work for a bit, even if he didn’t have to as much, so he can understand what it is to work. So he can understand what it is to save and earn and have one’s pride of place based on their own hard effort and work as well as anything they are given. And, if he chose to not go to university but to be a mechanic, would I love him less or discourage him? No, because he would be following his heart. But, I would want him to do so because he had the choice to do so. It that makes me a bad person, then so be it. Those are the choices Hubby and I made together as criteria for our future children.
As it happens, I am not rich. My hubby and I have worked very hard for anything that we have. I stay home now, not because I am a bored and vain housewife, but because I am learning and actively working at a frugal life-style so it can be so. It IS a job. I make almost all my own clothes, which I taught myself. I cook and preserve so that I can spend less at the market. We do without holidays, so that we can live the lifestyle we have chosen. We have one car, so there is less expense AND less opportunity to go and spend willy-nilly by me. I have found, anyway, that I am always so busy at home, I haven’t time to go and be bored and shop aimlessly. Though, I have been that person too!
What also struck me in the commenter's tone was the quick assumption about a ‘stay at home wife’. That quick as a wink, ‘here we are again’, attitude that says the ‘stay at home woman’ is lazy, vain and bored. As if I just lie about all day on pillows of satin, eating bon-bons watching ‘my stories’. In the PC world in which we live, why is that not considered discrimination?
The assumptions we make of others is often based on the material aspect of someone. We see what they are wearing or buying or driving and then conveniently place them in their box. We, modern people, have made it easy for such assumptions. And if we want to take on a groups’ view we simply need to dress and act like the accepted norms. It is almost warrior like, but rather than eating your kill to take on its powers we simply don the clothes or attitude of an accepted ‘group’. And suddenly we magically are a part of it or we take on all that group represents: Instant personality; instant lifestyle.
And isn't’ that what so much of the modern world is, instant? We want it now fast and easy! No thinking or struggle, just pop it on and go to the next thing. This is another reason I like to dress vintage. Many people don’t know what box to put me in. Or, if someone sees me dressed up, they might think I am all prissy and think I consider myself better than them. Yet, in reality I am also as comfortable going home and wielding power tools and doing construction. I can dig in the soil and raise chickens AND dress up and go to the opera. My life is a series of choices based on what I like and what I would like to achieve. Why should I ever limit myself to what I think I SHOULD be doing based on whatever group I WANT to belong to. I never think, “Oh, I can’t do that because this group to which I subscribe would not do it”
That was why the 1955 project also scared me, because I had preconceived ideas of what a middle class 50’s housewife was and did. I didn’t want to NOT do something, yet in my practiced attempts to NOT use certain conveniences, I then learned to do even more. And, as with my own life, I am finding that there was no one type of 1950’s person. The world was made up of many different people all experiencing the same thing in different ways.
I also discovered through the old magazines (as opposed to the modern uber-specialized magazines of today) that women at home not only got to wear nice clothes but also learned to fix the toilet, build a shelf for the kitchen, become a master chef, decorate and paint and the list goes on. More was expected of them and they did more because of it. Not because they were assumed to be a certain way and therefore could only be that person. Today we seem to expect so little from someone.
Well, if any of you are still with me at this point, I just wish to say that I hope this rant is not seen as too self-indulgent. I just wanted to point out that we might view or think we know someone based on some criteria we either have learned or been shown on TV, when often times each individual should be taken on their merit, despite their parents or ancestors.
I am proud of my own mother and what she accomplished even though she was ‘just a homemaker’. I am also proud of my grandparents for having the ability to see the world and community in which they lived and to have done their share. They could easily have walled themselves away and pretended it wasn't’ happening, but they thought about it and made MANY choices to help others to be empowered to work and feel they were still apart of their community and not just receiver's of hand outs. If that makes me disingenuous or living an imaginary life, than I am guilty.
Thank you for listening to my ramblings.