My son is studying the Great Depression in class so I suggested, “let’s call great grandma and she can tell you first hand what it was like to live during that time.
My grandmother is ninety-eight years young and doing quite well. However, her hearing has slipped somewhat. Okay, so she can hardly hear anymore. As we yelled into the phone “tell us about the Great Depression” she answered “honey, you’re gonna have to get your momma to translate.” Finally, she got it “You want me to tell you some stories about the Great Depression?”
She began by quickly telling us what we already knew, the basic facts, as she remembered them. We tried to have a conversation and conduct an interview, but it just wasn’t happening. She understood “just keep talking.” Then she went on to more interesting details about where she lived, how her father was out of work for two years and how the church brought them food. And on to stories she knew about what happened to other people in her small town of Shamrock, Oklahoma.
She went from story to story and threw in some politics every now and then, complaining about party lines and how hard it is for a president to anything passed with a congress on the other side. My son and I gave each other a knowing look when she would go on one of these tangents and we’d ride it out. Because, in between, there were some real gems about humanity that touched us deeply, made us laugh, cry, and smile.
One such story touched both my son and I deeply and continues to play out in my mind. I relayed the story to my mother and sister, but left out some of the detail. Both of them wanted to know more and were touched by how people down on their luck put others before themselves.
Grandma began by explaining how although her daddy and the other men of the town were out of steady work, every now and then, someone would come through town who needed a few workers for a few days to do this or that, often it was picking fruit in the orchards. Her daddy got picked up on one of these work crews with a handful of other men in the town. They were picked up very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and worked until the daylight was gone. They were brought back to town late in the evening and made their way home, exhausted, but happy for the work and the few pennies they could bring back to their families.
This particular work crew set out that morning just like any other of their time, their wives packed them a small lunch with what they could find in their cupboards and the men headed into town to catch their ride. The men in this crew had all been going through a rough time, all out of work, and were happy to be able to work even if it was just for a few days. They knew one of the men in their presence was particularly down on his luck. While he wasn’t looking they peaked into his lunch pail. What they found made even them feel blessed for what they did have. In the bottom of his pail lay a few potato peelings. These men with not much to their names each took something out of their lunch and placed it in his, until he had what they considered an adequate lunch.
When the man came back and it was time for lunch he opened his pail and said “this isn’t mine.” He insisted that he had someone else’s and wanted to make sure he got it back to them. Finally, the other men fessed up and told him what they had done. With tears in his eyes he explained that mornings events.
He and his wife were up in the early hours to get him ready to go. There was nothing left to eat except a few potatoes. His wife wanted him to take them, he was going to be out all day in the Oklahoma heat and needed something to fuel him. He didn’t want to take them because he wanted his children to have something to eat. He told her, peel the potatoes and put them in my pail, so the children can have the potatoes when they wake up and won’t go hungry.
This, my friends, this puts everything in perspective. As I sit here and think about how to wrap this up I am left with two quotes that resonate. Oscar Wilde wrote “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” Practice kindness everyday, you never know how much your small gesture may mean to someone else. And this from livelifehappy.com “Take time to be thankful for everything that you have. You can always have more, but you could also have less.”