Washington County resident shares her memories of Great Depression

October 24, 2008

Myrtle L. Hartle, 83, who lives north of Hagerstown, shares her memories of growing up in the State Line, Pa., area during the Great Depression.

Our family lived on a small farm and our parents always managed to feed and clothe the five children in our family, who ranged in age from 1 to 9 years old when the Depression started. I was only 4 at the time and do not recall the first years of the Depression. I had two older brothers and two younger brothers.

During the Depression, a little sister joined our family; she does not remember any of the Depression years. Mother was the homemaker, as were most ladies of that era. Daddy was employed at the M.P. Moller Factory and had work during most of that time, even though he did have shortened work weeks. He had four years seniority at that time, and continued on working his entire life at the organ factory.


As a child of 4 years old, I do not remember the beginning of the "hard times," as those years were referred to, by many folks. I am sure that there were many worries for our parents as was true for almost everyone else at that time. We always had food on the table and clothes on our backs, maybe only one pair of shoes per child; but who can wear more than one pair at a time anyhow?

A serious illness faced Mother in the early '30s, and we children were divided among our aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. They took us to live with them until Mother recovered. What a blessing to have caring families for support. Then in the late '30s, Daddy was seriously ill. The discovery of penicillin (at that time) was what saved his life.

Our farm was a small one, as compared to today's farms, but we had livestock of cattle, a horse, pigs and chickens. This supplied our family with meat, dairy products and fresh eggs. Mother always made homemade bread and this smelled so good baking and later eating. The eggs were often exchanged at the small family store in the village for flour, sugar, coffee, tea, salmon, herring-roe (or fish eggs) and other staples as needed. We were not unique with this pattern of exchange; since most farm families did the same thing. A large garden and truck-patch provided food for the year-round use. Lots of canning and preserving meats for winter use was common in that era of time.

Clothes were handmade from feed sacks and clothing was handed down from the older children. It was the custom then to have one dress outfit for church; school clothes, which were used only for school; and we changed to play clothes when we wanted to romp and stomp outdoors. We always had warm clothes for winter and the necessary other accessories for walking over one-half a mile to school.

I do remember one winter, when I was small but old enough to understand, when one lady at church asked Mother if she was cold, because she had only a lightweight, tan spring coat to wear. I did not like this, because then I learned a lesson that the children come first if there is a need in the family. A mother will sacrifice things for herself in order that the little ones are dressed warmly in winter.

Even though things were scarce, Mother always managed to order a small bit of candy on her order that Daddy took to the country store. It was a common practice that after church on Sunday, and the dinner and dishes were done, for the family to gather in the living room. Mother would share the special treat of candy. We would try to guess what kind of candy it was, as she poured it into the pink, glass candy dish. Jelly beans were always easy to guess.

Daddy and the two older boys would milk the cows and take care of the barn chores. I stayed in the house and tried to help Mother with her work. I don't remember the boys ever washing dishes. The two younger brothers helped with the farm work as they got older, and I soon taught my little sister how to dry dishes. We still laugh, to this day, how I always got my job done sooner than she did.

Our grandmother died in 1932 and it was shortly after this that Daddy purchased the home place where he was born and lived, happily, there until he was 97 years old. How they scraped up enough money to buy the farm is still a wonder to me.

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