The Great Depression shaped my parents. In the years to come, it shaped my life as well.
Because they saw first-hand the deprivation and starvation wrought by hard times, they never forgot. And, in turn, they made certain I never forgot either.
It still astounds me to recall neither of my parents ever possessed a credit card. In the course of their lifetimes, three cars, two houses and one farm were bought “on time” and each were paid off early. Other than that, every purchase was cash or rarely was it even a check. They took the dollars out, counted them carefully and paid for whatever they bought.
Though they had been brought up in the hardest of times, they would own outright — lock, stock and barrel — everything they held in their possession by the time they turned 50.
They were beholdin’ to God only. It was he who owned their destiny.
“Lord, bless the workings of our hands,” Daddy always prayed aloud.
If the good Lord only sent the work, no matter what it was, then he and Mama did it. They were grateful for the opportunity to make an honest living.
Once, Daddy gave me the down payment for a new car and Mama matched it. Hers came in the form of a check from her sewing while Daddy counted out a pile of musty-smelling, damp $20 bills.
When I handed the money to car salesman who was dressed in a starched white shirt decorated with a perfect tie, he caught a whiff of the smell. He held it to his nose, took a deep sniff and asked, to my great embarrassment, “How long has this money been buried?”
I don’t know it was buried, but I know this: Daddy never trusted banks. He had lost 50 cents in a savings account when the Depression hit, so he always hedged his bets. He had money in the bank, cash in his billfold, cash in a safe deposit box and, apparently from the car deal, money in a Mason jar hidden somewhere deep in the red Georgia clay.
This kind of thinking worked out well for Mama and Daddy. They died owing nobody, owning everything they had and leaving a bit behind in the form of CDs. They never spent more than they had because they lived in fear of returning to starvation one day.
“Too many people spent themselves into the poorhouse,” Mama said. “Their ‘wants’ outweigh their pocketbooks.”
It wasn’t a lot of fun to be raised by people who lived according to needs and not wants. Our pantry was often missing Coca-Colas, potato chips and cookies. My dresses were homemade and my bangs, according to every photographic recollection of my childhood, were cut by Mama or me. They are always crooked and far too short.
However, because of their stern guidance of faith and financial prudence, I am prepared for whatever might come. And, judging on how things are going now, something not so good is coming.
That’s what has me worried.
It seems to me that parents raise children according to how their childhoods were. Easy childhoods bring forth another harvest of easy childhoods, perhaps even easier. A parent always wants his offspring to have it better. Times have been relatively easy since the depression of the 1930s, which means children have been taught with a gentler hand. I seriously doubt few born after 1950 have ever buried a mason jar of money.
Our house is built on a hill of solid granite. It is not just rock or gravel, but a long, wide and deeply stubborn slab. It is not good land for burying anything, especially money, because no shovel could survive the first stab at that red clay earth.
Yet, I dream about it. I learned that from my daddy.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.