Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great Depression Memories: Canned Meat and Lollipop Songs

I have a very vivid recollection of the layout of the Cage Hardware and Furniture Company where my father's office was suspended, as if in a treehouse, with a good view, through its surrounding glass, of the hardware counter and of the fine china displays in the front of the store. On either side were balconies, running the store's length, where sofas and chairs and tables were displayed for sale.

Out the back door, beyond the hardware counter and the offices floating above it, was the weedy lot where tractors, plows, harvesters, and other farm implements were kept for convenient shopping by the company's farm and ranch customers. And through a side door under the balcony to the right was yet another storage area.

One year, at the height of the 1930s depressed economy, Mr. Cage set up a miniature steam-canning factory in that storage room for himself and his employees to use. I remember quite well my glimpse of the adults hard at work in there, canning beef in tin cans, in a project that was meant to cut down on cash spent at the grocery store. (Vegetables and fruits. such staples as tomatoes, beans, corn, and peaches, were canned at home in glass jars.)

But we were four lively little girls, about 4 to 7 years in age, and we were soon sent home in the care of our 16-year-old big sister. And the afternoon turned into an enchanted one for all of us. Our sister was a proficient pianist by then, and to entertain us and keep us corralled, she stood us in a semi-circle to her right as she sat on the piano bench. And she painstakingly taught us to sing "On the Good Ship Lollipop," from a music book that contained a number of songs from the Shirley Temple hit movie by the same title.

All four of us loved to sing, and we loved the attention. Furthermore, when our weary parents arrived home hours later, they applauded the little concert we put on for them with great enthusiasm. Over three-quarters of a century later, the memory is as fresh and as sweet as ever. And I'd be as happy to sing the entire chorus for you, about bon-bons playing "on the sunny beach of peppermint bay," as I would have been that afternoon when I first learned it and sang it with my sisters.

Five Sisters

This old snapshot shows us at a slightly younger age, the 18-month-old baby in the oldest sister's lap.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Great Depression -- How My Father Started Over

The mid-1920s drought in South Texas caused my father to lose his cotton crop three years in a row, and a barn fire resulted in his losing the farm itself, in the end, by destroying his tractor and all his mortgaged farm implements.

The Cage Hardware and Furniture Company, which also sold farm equipment, held the mortgage on those implements, with the expectation of being paid after the crop was sold. My father went to see Mr. Cage and asked if there might be a way he could pay off the debt by working for the company. He was given a job as clerk in the hardware store. Within months Mr. Cage promoted him to the position of bookkeeper, and within a few years my father had risen to be vice-president and general manager of the entire company.

Below are some old snapshots of my father and mother. She was helping to bale hay for the horses, with which he tried to finish making the third year's crop after the barn fire. The loss of that farm was a bitter one to him. But he carried on and brought up a family of six children on the income from his new career. He was 40 years old when he lost the farm.

I used to ride my bicycle to town and go up to see him in his glassed-in office above the store, from about age 11 on.

On the San Patricio County Farm


Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Home Front

In the Upstairs Office

Here is my father, standing in the office which adjoined his, upstairs in the hardware store. His employer, who by that time had made him a vice-president of the company (which had expanded to include lumber yards, filling stations, an International Harvester Dealership, and a Hudson dealership, as well as a funeral home), is seated at the desk beside him. The glassed-in area overlooked the hardware and furniture display room which one entered from the street. Fine china was displayed nearest the front, hardware in the back, with a long counter and packaging supplies in the center of the downstairs area. A few feet beyond the counter, centered, were the wide stairs which led up to the offices. This 8x10 photo is glued into an album sent to me by my mother, some years after my father's death. The note "July 3, 1941" is in her handwriting.

I scanned it into my hard drive with my HP scanner. The glossy photo is so clear that it required no further processing at all.

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