Making Ends Meet in That Depression and This Recession

April 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published a story featuring couples from the Depression era who talked about how they survived on very little. I've taken a look at what these folks said, the advice they gave, and compared it to decisions I'm making now in the middle of our recession. Annie Pezzillo Moon, 87 "I went to the Madonna House on Cherry Street, where the nuns were; my father didn't know this, but we needed food. The nuns gave me a ticket where I would get stale bread and stale cake." Jennie Dorris, 29 "I go to this bar on south Broadway called Sputnik, where corn dogs are just a dollar during their four-hour happy hour. If I eat more than two, they tend to comp one, though I'm not sure if it's out of kindness or disgust. Also, if I tear up in front of the bartenders I usually get a shot of whiskey."

Thomas Moon, 87 "The house I grew up in, all we had was a fireplace for heat and a wood stove in the kitchen to cook with, and two kerosene lamps. The living room had the fireplace--we had two full-size beds in that room." Jennie Dorris, 29 "I live in a one-bedroom house that has a miniature pot-belly stove for its only source of heat. Though the house tops out at 450 square feet, the heat does not often reach the bedroom. I pour boiling water in my old Nalgenes, pray to god the BPA isn't heat-triggered, and snuggle with them all night. I have also been known to employ whiskey's warming powers before bed." Merlin Nelson, 87 "We spent the Christmas of 1933 in this modest house there. Dad drove the 1930 Chevrolet out in the foothills toward the Cascade range, found a tree, put it on top of the car, found some mistletoe and picked some sprigs of that and some holly and then some white berries. They popped corn and then you got a needle and thread, and that combination of fruit and popcorn basically was our decoration." Jennie Dorris, 29 "My boyfriend and I go to a Christmas tree farm in Evergreen for two reasons: They have cheap Charlie Brown trees, and they give us a free shot of whiskey for our purchase. Last year, we took old beer caps and drilled holes in them, stringing twine and hanging them for decorations." Peter G. Holden, 92 "That first year, I didn't think I would be able to go to college, but my mother sent $10 from Stamford. She said, 'Boy, you take this to St. Augustine's and see if they don't take this as a down payment, and if they don't take it, you send my money back to me or I'll come back to Raleigh and beat you all over.'" Jennie Dorris, 29 "I wanted to go to a small, liberal arts college in the Midwest, but my imperfect ACT score held me back from winning the top academic scholarship. However, I bargained hard with the music department and got extra money for participating in the college marching band. But then I had to be in the marching band for four years, playing xylophone solos on arranged tunes from Matchbox Twenty."

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