January 4, 2007

That Little Aluminum Pot

Several years after Dad died, my sister went down to the big house where mother lived alone, to visit and check her well-being. She found her seated in the middle of the kitchen floor cleaning out the cabinets with pots and pans scattered all around her. She was crying, her tears falling on a cheap, thin aluminum, one quart pot with a riveted-on handle which she held in her lap.

“What in the world is the matter?”, my sister asked.

Through her tears mother told this story: “During the worst of the depression when your Dad had been out of a job for years, he came home one afternoon after a trip to town looking for work, with this little pot. He said he was passing by Gann’s Bargain Store and saw this little pot in the window with a sign on it which read ‘10¢’. He felt in his pocket and

that was all he had----one thin dime.”

“I just knew you could use a little pot like that so I went in and bought it for you”, he said.

I called him Dad...

Dad never owned an automobile. He never learned to drive one after the Model T. We lived in a small town and could walk wherever we needed to go--to work, to shop, to school, to church.

When the depression hit he was laid off from the bank where he worked and for seven years never had steady employment. He was physically unable to do manual labor and it is still a mystery to me how he and mother were able to feed and clothe three children until we were able to make it on our own. Mother said one of the happiest days of Dad’s life was when he paid off the last hundred dollars charged at a grocery store. To his apology for being in debt so long the owner said, “I wasn't worried, J. R. I knew you were good for it”.

Times like that brought out the best (or worst) in people. Dad never blamed anyone for losing his job or envied anyone who could have been laid off rather than him. He searched everywhere for work but found only a few odd jobs. He tried delinquent account collecting and selling life insurance but everyone was as broke as he was.

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My hometown was one of those typical County Seat towns with the courthoouse in the middle of a square of business houses. On most of the streets radiating from the "square" the business houses only extended for one block and then came the big homes of the more affluent in the community or the churches. The streets had names, but no signs, and were often known by a local nickname.

For instance, there was "Swellhead". No doubt so designated because as you traveled away from the 'square' you passed the home of a former governor of the state, a lawyer and former U. S. Cabinet member, owner of a local drug store, a doctor, owner of an automobile agency, owner of a hardware store, two more lawyers, and several semi-retired farmers and landowners. We even lived there once for a few years--in a rented house way down near the end of the street.

Many of the buildings on the 'square' had converted the second floor to apartments when it was no longer possible to rent the space to doctors, lawyers, and dentists. They were occupied mostly by widows who couldn't afford the upkeep of a house.

Everybody knew everybody else and most of their business. After two or three years delivering handbills and owning a paper route I knew where everybody lived and their dog by name. This close knit community had both good and bad points. You knew who you could trust but if you got out of line the word might get to your folks before you got home for supper!

Grandpa and Grandma Scott

A. D. and T. were already retired when I got acquainted with them. They had homesteaded in western Kansas and invested profits from their wheat crops in a general store and other buildings in the little town where I was born. The general store had been sold but the land was still farmed by one of their daughters and her husband.

A. D. always wore a hat--usually a homburg. When he went to bed at night he hung his hat on the bed-post and when he got up he reached for his hat. The only other times he took it off was when he went to the table and when he went to the local barber shop for a shave or haircut.

He walked the few blocks to town every morning to get the mail at the postoffice, discuss the weather and news with his cronies at the barber shop or Masonic Hall, and check on business with the renters of buildings he owned. Occassionally he would drop by to visit with the agent at the railroad station and once each year--in late summer or early fall--order tickets for their annual trip to California for the winter.

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Homemade Toys

During the Depression there was no money for toys or books so you played with what was handed down from better days or made your own. Tools were scarce too. You were lucky if you had more than a hand saw, screwdriver, hammer, and pliers. We did have a coping saw but had to be very careful to saw straight up and down, not to pinch on the curves, or get the blade too hot or it would snap.

We didn't have a drill so we burned a hole in the hub of our model airplane propellers, which were carved with a pocket knife, by heating a nail red hot in the cook stove fire and holding it with pliers. Mother didn't care too much for the odor of burning pine wood in her kitchen, either!

If you needed to cut a wire you hammered it flat on the concrete or a rock and flexed it until it broke. To smooth rough wood without expensive sandpaper a piece of broken glass worked very well. Taught you to be careful, too!

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