Surviving in Tough Economic Times
Written Winter of 2009
Today’s newspapers speak doom and gloom about the future of our US economy and many of us are facing difficult economic issues. We wonder if we may lose our jobs or possibly our homes and fear for the future. If my dad (Merrill Benner) were still alive, he would tell me about the Great Depression and how this is nothing compared to what he had experienced. In fact, recently I came across a glimpse into that time period from a story my dad had written in a grandparent’s memory book for my oldest son, Patrick. My dad wanted his descendants to know what life was like during the Depression and how sometimes surviving included an abundance of ingenuity and thriftiness.
It was a cold, snowy Saturday morning during the Depression of the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, when the family of Charles and Leanna Benner, which consisted of Pop, Mom, Paul, Edwin, Marvin, Merrill, Irene, and Edna (later, Dorothy and Willard as well) experienced a rather unusual occurrence. We lived at 240 Chestnut Street and at the time, there was a two story barn near the family home. We also owned the lot directly behind our property which was vacant and had on it a large pear tree.
During these Depression days, meat was a scarce item. We ate lots of bean, potato, clam, and tomato soups. Many big families subsisted mainly on mush and milk, so we felt fortunate to have soup. We sometimes raised leghorn hens, not for meat but to sell for much needed cash. Pop and Mom felt the chickens were too expensive for us to eat, so during this time period we sold a flock of 35-50 hens for $1.oo each.
On this particular day, hunting season was over (which was how we often supplemented our meager depression fare with rabbits, pheasants, and squirrels) and Pop decided to meet our need for good, fresh meat. There was snow on the ground and the starlings were hungry and plentiful as they took a break on the pear tree in our back lot. So Pop got his double-barreled shotgun and took careful aim from the upstairs barn window, firing at least once into this flock of starlings perched on the big pear tree. After the shot, Marvin, Paul and I helped gather the dead and wounded starlings. We finished off the birds, which I remember tried to run away, but we caught them and filled up a peach basket full of starlings. Then we took them into the house, scalded them in a large tub, and picked the feathers off. They had nice meaty breasts and we each had one or more starlings for supper that evening. I think Mom cooked rice to eat with our birds, but more importantly, we were glad to have survived another cold wintry night and that our mom and pop and Father in heaven had supplied our needs. —BBM