Dirt. Death. Dryness. Depression. This is what the people of America had to face during the early twentieth century. The Great Depression began with a deadly stock market crash in 1929, and for the next decade, the economy of America suffered greatly. It was a time of loss and pain for many people. But what about the kids that grew up during it—how did they deal with it all? Well, by talking to Don Fahy, I learned exactly what it was like. Don Fahy was born on February 10, 1922 in Sidney, Nebraska. Sidney was a very small farm town with a population of about 3300 people.
He grew up with two great parents and one sister. He was about seven years old when the Depression started, however throughout the heart of it he was a teenager. He had lots of friends, went to school, and was a normal teenager just like me! He even had a high school sweetheart, Polly, who he has now been happily married to for over sixty years! Looking back on his childhood, he doesn’t really remember being in a depression. To him it was just a “state of life. ” He just didn’t know he was in a depression—he never knew any different because that’s what he grew up in.
To explain this, he said, “If all you ever eat is hamburgers, they are the best thing you have ever had. Until you have a steak. If you have never had a steak, you didn’t know what else was out there. ” To him, they had the best thing available because they never had anything different. Nobody back then had any money, so he didn’t realize they were “poor. ” However, living well these days, by looking back he realizes how bad times really were, and he has a great story to tell. Growing up in Sidney, Nebraska was like having a big family.
It was a small wheat-farming community where everybody knew everybody and they were always willing to help anyone who needed it. Sidney relied heavily on the wheat-farming industry because it was their major source of income. However in the midwestern “wheat country” of Nebraska, there was often a lack of rain which killed the crops. When there was an occassional rain, the plants were so weak that the “hail would beat the crops to nothing. ” The farmers in Sidney had it the worst. However, other than farming there was one other major industry there.
The Union Pacific Railroad was another place many people worked, and to work there was considered one of the best jobs in town. His father however was neither a farmer nor a worker for the railroad. He worked as a barber who was just barely getting by. They were a poor family, and even though they may not have known they were in a depression, they knew there was never any extra cash. Being a teenager, Don did his share of work to provide income for his family as well. During the summer he would push his father’s lawnmower from town to town and mow lawns for just twenty-five cents each.
His sister also did her share trying to earn money by babysitting for a few families. She was actually considered fortunate for earning twenty-five cents an hour! This was especially interesting to me considering how much babysitters, like myself, make now! During the winter they would work for hours in snow up to their knees trying trying to clear it. He told me, “If you ever had a job that earned you a dollar, you were considered rich. ” We can’t even buy a soda at lunch for that now! It was amazing to listen to his story, and being a teenager, I wanted to know more about what life was like during that time.
Being a teenager, working was obviously not all he did. He went to school and hung out with his friends, too. During a typical day he would go to school, do his work around the house, then go play outside with his friends. He went to a very small high school with a total of about 100 students. I asked him about schools during the 1930s and if they were greatly affected by the Depression. He said he doesn’t remember the schools themselves being affected much by the Depression, except for there was sometimes a shortage of typewriters because of the obvious lack of money.
He said they didn’t have extra curricular activities and computers like we have now, but as far as school itself kids were as dedicated then if not more than they are now. He told me about playing baseball with other kids in the community. They all had their neighborhood teams. He talked about the huge difference in kids playing baseball today and the kids that played during his childhood.. They didn’t have fancy little uniforms and corporate sponsors’ names on their jerseys like you see at little league games today. They might have had twenty-five kids out to play and they were lucky to scrounge up nine gloves.
But they didn’t care. They had fun with what they had and didn’t miss anything because they simply didn’t know any different. However baseball was just one of his many childhood memories. He remembers going to see movies with his friends for just ten cents! He also remembers things like buying a big Baby Ruth candy bar for five cents! He would save up his pennies and feel really great about earning his candy bar. Growing up the way he did, it’s sometimes hard to fathom how much kids live today. But then in turn he could have never imagined anybody ever living the way we do now because he lived how everybody else did.
Finally, we began to talk about the last stage of the Depression—the improvement. He told me about President Roosevelt and how he planned helped the economy. FDR started programs which gave social sercurity to people for retirement which was desperately needed. He also started a program called the ECC, which was a program for boys just out of high school that would do construction work for a very minimal wage. Mr. Fahy told me, “He was a miracle I do believe—one of our very, very best presidents. ” As our conversation neared an end, I asked him when he began to realize everything was going to be OK.
He described it as “osmosis. ” The economy began to improve and the people just continued to routinely do things and not even realize the change was happening. The most important thing Mr. Fahy learned through his experiences during the Great Depression was definitely appreciation. He appreciates everything people have today compared to that time period. We have so many things and so many great opportunities now. He learned to appreciate all the opportunities that are available, and encouraged me to do the same. By doing this project and talking to Mr.
Fahy, I definitely learned to be grateful for everything I have. I have been so blessed with everything I have and most of the time I don’t even think twice about it. I have also been taught to seize the opportunities that are given to me and make the most of my life while I have the chance. I am definitely glad I had the chance to talk with Mr. Fahy and learn how different things were then, and also how I can use what he shared with me about his experiences and what he learned during the Depression and apply them to my life now. I guess sometimes something good can come out of something bad after all.