Jack Simpson: Even tough times were the 'good ol' days'



Everyone says times are tougher today than they once were. But old-timers can remember worse economic conditions. It was during the Great Depression between 1929 and even into the 1930s and 1940s. Yes, before World War II. There was massive unemployment, the stock market crashed, people lost jobs, homes and stood in line for food. They walked the streets carrying signs "Need Work." It was estimated before the crash there were 25,000 banks and after 11,000 of them failed.

Grandfather was a bank officer, among other things, and lost his home. He had many business setbacks and had more to worry about than giving his grandson the price of a movie and a Coke. Economic hardship hit everyone in the family and we each had to contribute in our own way to our recovery.

As a child, I never had to sell apples on a street corner, but I had my ways of raising a few pennies for the Saturday matinee. I knew hard work, not a hand out, was the best way to a better economic future.

I turned Grandfather's big yard into a business opportunity. After a rain I would take my flashlight and hunt nightcrawlers. I built a bed, added compost and raised bait for local fishermen. I packaged my worms in small cups, sold them for 25 cents and soon had a thriving business.

Some fishermen told me no jig or lure made fish bite better than some of my big, fat, homegrown, juicy nightcrawlers. And my price was right.

Back in those days, oranges were shipped to local grocery stores in wooden crates. Seeking movie money, we collected the discarded crates and cut them up into small pieces for kindling. Housewives started their coal-burning cook stoves with wood, so kindling was always in demand. We never got rich, but movie money could be made from this enterprise.

While scrounging through back alleys for crates, we also collected any abandoned scrap metal and sold it by the pound to the local junkyard.

Pennies added up, but sometimes even with hard work it was difficult to get up all the needed 15 cents for the matinee and a drink. Fortunately, the ticket collector, Jimmy, had a soft heart for kids and an appreciation for those trying to better themselves. Often he agreed to take whatever had been earned, even if 12 or 13 cents.

Some of the local residents were always willing to help out local kids. For 25 cents they would hire you to cut and trim their yards. Sorry to say some traveling magazine salesmen were not always as kind. They hired kids to sell magazines, promising big rewards and often skipped town without paying as promised.

So in the Great Depression many stood in poverty, but in our own way we rose and endured in the face of calamity. Some survived by what they learned, by what they did, and others by who they are.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.