Ken Plum: The First Great Depression

ken plumMy mom and dad were married in 1928 just before the Great Depression that lasted from 1929 to 1939. They grew up less than three miles apart, and Mom’s father who was a carpenter helped them build a house almost exactly halfway between the homes in which they had grown up. My dad worked for his father on the family farm in rural Page County, Virginia, growing grains and converting some of them into a liquid product (moonshine)!

The Great Depression was the greatest economic disaster the world had ever experienced to that time, and its impact was exacerbated by a drought. Mom and Dad never forgot the hardships they endured during that first decade of married life together, and those early experiences affected their entire lives. They developed skills of self-reliance and frugality that stayed with them even as economic times got easier for them later in their lives.

My dad farmed about an acre of vegetables that fed us throughout the summer and for the rest of the year as my mom canned or later when they had electricity and a freezer froze food for future consumption. We always grew enough potatoes to fill a garner in the cellar (essentially a basement with a dirt floor) to last us all year. In the earliest years of their marriage, more than a decade before I came along as the youngest of their three sons, they had a cow for milk and raised a hog for butchering.

To supplement the meager income Dad had from farming with my grandfather, they would pick huckleberries in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that are now part of the Shenandoah National Park. They picked wild strawberries and blackberries for home consumption of jams and jellies Mom would make. Their most profitable side-line was selling the meat of black walnuts that they had gathered from the area. Cracking a black walnut takes a lot of force and know-how. They were extremely frugal as they had to be. Well after the Great Depression ended and I was a young person we used our wax paper and tin (aluminum) foil more than once by simply wiping it off after each use.

Dad and Mom never lost their love and appreciation for President Franklin Roosevelt whom they credited with saving the country. They responded to his fireside chats that assured them that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” When the Great Depression finally ended and Dad went to work “in the public,” meaning that he no longer worked for his father, their economic situation improved with his being in a unionized job and as the entire country improved with the New Deal.

In many of the same ways that my parents experienced the first Great Depression, future generations will have been impacted by the next Great Depression coming on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic we are now experiencing. With hard work, strong faith, frugality, honest leadership, and perseverance they will be able to share the things they are now having to do to survive.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.


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