Today, I’m going to travel back in time to talk about the Christmas experiences that my grandmother told me about her childhood growing up during “The Great Depression“. Now granted, she was about 4 years at the time The Great Depression started, but she had an iron trap memory, and I think it’s a story worth telling.
Let me start by saying up front, that stories like the one I’m about to tell you helped formed my frugal habits in life.
Shortly after my grandmother was born, tragedy struck! While driving a dog to friends in Pennsylvania, her dad got stuck on the railroad tracks and was hit and killed by a train. Back then life was different, there wasn’t any government aid to help my grandmother’s mother in cases like this!
So my grandmother really didn’t know much about her dad, all that she told me was that he was a typical middle manager in some manufacturing plant of some sort. But after he died, it didn’t take long for the money that they had save to evaporate with quickly with time…
My grandmother’s mom eventually got a job cleaning houses in which all four kids would help out. It was a hard life from the beginning for my grandmother and her three siblings (2 girls and 1 boy).
Christmas was an especially hard time for the family. They didn’t have any money, and I’ve never heard of any mention of a Christmas Tree in my grandmother’s childhood (I do remember her mentioning Christmas stockings though).
Being the curious kid that I was, I’d ask my grandmother what she got for Christmas. And she would explain to me how instead of gifts, they might get a piece of fruit (an orange), or a piece candy (no chocolate though). Once she told me that she got a ball and jacks. And another Christmas, she got clothes made from an old drapery that one of the clients that her mom work for was throwing out (the older kids hated these she said, but she didn’t mind so much). This was special because the material of the drapes was an expensive type of material…
Now you might think that she was singing the blues to me, but when I told her how I thought that was horrible, and she said that it really wasn’t, and that’s just how it was back then!
If you were to watch TV, sad music would be playing and the kids would all have glum faces as they come down for Christmas to their nonexistent Christmas tree (no Grinch to have a change of heart and save the day in this story) and they would shed a tear or two, feeling pity for themselves.
But it was never that bad! She said that they would sing and enjoy each others company. There was great strength in their family, because they knew the world dealt them a bad hand, but they were determined to make the best of it.
I guess that may be why I sometimes route for the underdog and have the Lemons to Lemonade category on my blog…
Being an adult now, I think she sugar-coated it at least a little so I wouldn’t be depressed at Christmas. I’m sure she felt the bitterness and envy that comes with being a smart but poor kid at Christmas. But instead of hating the holiday, she made it one of her favorites! She truly was a brilliant and excellent teacher in my life!
After she was a married and had kids, perhaps this is the reason why Christmas was always over the top for her and she tried to make it a great experience for her kids and grandchildren. Her presentation of Christmas was the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing something magical as a child. Not just for the tree and gifts! She would play her organ and have the kids sing Christmas songs.
Perhaps this is also the reason that I put my kids first, and want them to have a step up in life, on both personally and financially level.
Thanks for letting me share a bit of my family history and hardships,
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