Sunday, February 22, 2009

In light of the recession...

I was thinking the other day about people who lived during the Great Depression and are still alive today.  Most of them were probably young, most likely children who had no idea what was taking place in their world.  I wonder what they think of what is going on today.  I get annoyed when I hear people compare our recession today to the recession people experienced when the market crashed in 1929.  To me, from what I know, it is not even a comparison.  Despite that though, I was thinking about these people as children and what kind of dreams they imagined, while the adults dealt with the harsh reality of the Great Depression.  As I was watching Caroline playing with her dollhouse the other day, being witness to her imagination,  vividly creating stories about her family of dolls, my heart warmed at her innocence.  Watching her made me think about Letters To Erin again.  The letters my MawMaw wrote to me when I was a baby.  So, I pulled them out and started reading.  The first one perfectly portrayed a little girl living in a time where people had next to nothing.  It really made me stop and think about her life and how her imagination made up a world of wonder and beauty in a time where things were not so perfect... 

Here's the first letter... 

"Dear Erin, 

Although you're just fifteen months old now, before I know it you'll be grown, and there are so many things I want you to know about.  You have a fine Mommy and Daddy, and they will teach you many things, but a grandmother can give you a legacy of the past that will enrich the present and guide you in the future.  

When I was a little girl like you I lived on Main Street with my Mama and Papa in an old one-story white house with a porch and a swing and ten steps leading down to the sidewalk.  The street was a main highway then and trucks and cars rumbled through the night - not so many as today though, for although I didn't really know it, the stock market had crashed when I was a few weeks old and our world had plunged into the Great Depression.  

Although there were grownups living in the house that sagged under its own weight and was wearily held off the ground by tired brick pillars, there were no other children and I amused myself by retreating into a fantasy land of my own making. Others have said that I was a stubborn child, and I guess I was, sulking in the pantry when I was angry. 

That pantry, though, was a magic place.  On one side there were rows and rows of fruit jars filled with peaches, and jellies, and sometimes pale, sweet wine.  That was the side I mustn't touch but could only smell the sweetness of it and marvel at the jewel-like colors enriched by the sunlight shining in the solitary window.  

The other side I claimed as my province.  There was a big box, a rag bag Mama called it, filled with discarded clothing, and on the rack above were old coats and hats.  Papa had been the director and chief cornetist of a village band when, years before, he and Mama and the four children, Myrtle, Ralph, Virginia, and Harold, had lived in Bessemer City. His uniform coat and hat were in the pantry, and I used to finger the roughness of the gold braid on the sleeves.  

One day I managed to climb up and dislodge the coat and cap from their resting place.  They fell with a whoosh on my head and covered me with their blackness.  When I had extricated myself from the wool and braid I put them on - the coat and cap - and felt another wonder in the pocket.  It was a magic wand of long smooth wood, a baton I later learned.  When I waved it in the air, music filled the pantry and even reached my ears which had been covered over with the gold braided cap.  Although I couldn't see very well -  the cap hanging over my eyes had a bill made of black stuff that I could stick my fingernails into -  I could visualize a whole room full of musicians and I was their leader.  When I waved the wand the music began and when I waved it faster the music became frenzied, and when I waved it more slowly the music washed over me like tired waves on a lonely beach.  I was renewed and forgot what had made me angry enough to retreat to the pantry.  

There were other treasures in the rag bag: old lace curtains to be used for bridal veils or long regal trains and my own little white shirts with short button-on sky blue pants.  I had asked Mama why I couldn't have clothes like the other children in the neighborhood and she had made them for me - the older children were all boys at the time.  

Outside the pantry window was a large maple tree underneath which no grass grew.  Its shelter made a roof for my playhouse carefully drawn with a stick in the dirt.  It was always in a state of remodeling; I could draw the walls and doors differently every day.  I would have to be careful, however, and not walk right through the walls; one should only go in and out the doors, which were marked with two short lines perpendicular to those of the walls.  I made a stove out of a stack of bricks I had found in the sterile earth under the house and played at cooking grass and weeds.  I gathered dandelions and placed them in milk bottles around in my house just as Mama did with the vases of roses from her garden.  Sometimes I would take my two favorite dolls, an old baby doll with a floppy cloth body and sewn-in arms and legs and a little girl doll whose red wig I had long ago pulled off, and seat them on other bricks I had fashioned into chairs.  

Later when I had achieved a little more manual dexterity, I found that pawpaw leaves fastened together with twigs could be fashioned into wonderful things, like crowns and floppy hats, and capes to hide the everyday world and fly away to Never-never Land.  

Imagination is a wonderful gift, Erin, and should be encouraged to grow and flourish.  It takes us places we never can go and gives us experiences we never can have otherwise.  It gives color to a drab world and delight in the commonplace."  


M&M said...

I was so touched by this post, Erin! Beautiful! You should put her letters into a book - and then publish it :) I'd buy it :) Hope you're well! Love, Mary

Patty said...

Your MawMaw was a real jewel, wasn't she? How lucky we are to have known her, loved her, and learned from her!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for a beautiful reminder of Anne. Thoughts of her always brighten my day. Love to you three.

Aunt Donna