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John Michael Domino

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Reflections of the Great Depression
By John Michael Domino
Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rated "G" by the Author.

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This is a true account from an interview I had with my good friend, Lester Lemke about his life on a farm during the Great Depression. Enjoy!

It’s 1935

Hi, my name is Lester and I woke up today hearing the rooster yelling out, “cock-a-doodle-do.” Honestly, I don’t feel like getting up because it is so early and this hand-made goose down comforter and pillowcases are just too comfy. But I agreed with my parents to stay at least one year and help out on my grandparent’s farm. The time in 6:00 A.M. and it is June 19th 1935 and right now I got to get up and go to work. I walk by this old oak dresser to fetch my brush which is made of wood and boars hair. I walk to the china jug and bowl set that was made in England. I poured some water into the bowl and begin to wash up with some shavings of soap grandma made last month. The water is fresh because we fetched it yesterday from a nearby river. I felt the wind blow rain right through the wall plaster in the crack in the wooden window frame. During this time insulation and protection from the weather was an old towel you placed on the window sill.  I found this old towel near the marble wash stand and placed on the window sill to cut down on the drip. I was wearing warm cotton pajamas that grandma made by hand. They were somewhat oversized so I just rolled up the sleeves.  I had to go to the bathroom pretty bad so I put on my grandpas robe that was hanging on the doorknob and walked down the stairs. I had to light the kerosene lamp because it was still pretty dark. I took the lamp with me as I slowly made the decent down the creaky wooden stairs. They were a bit slippery but I had on a pair of leather boots that were oversized for my feet but they did the job. The outhouse was a short walk out the back yard. It was pouring rain so I fetched an old umbrella from the umbrella stand by the front door. All the doors were all unlocked so it was easy to gain access to wherever I need to go. In those days we never locked up the house unless we were on a long vacation. The back porch screen door was spring loaded and swung shut behind me. I walked carefully between the puddles on the rocky pathway. Sitting in that outhouse was like sitting inside a steamy sauna. Man, did it smell. As I sat there I looked around and thought that this old wooden outhouse looked so old that must have been built during the Civil War. I read the Sears catalogue that was on a wooden shelf. It was my reading material and it also doubled as toilet paper.

While walking back inside the farmhouse I smelled the familiar fragrance of coffee and fresh baked corn bread.  Grandma was cooking in the summer kitchen near the porch because it was too hot to be enclosed. She smiled and gave me a hearty, “Good Morning Lester.”  I greeted her and then proceeded to ask Grandpa what chores he needed help with today. Grandpa tipped his hat and gave me some directions of what chores to do before breakfast.

After feeding the animals and milking the cow I was ready to grab a bite to eat. Everyone was sitting at old hand-made oak table and waiting on me to say, “Grace.” Grandpa said a beautiful prayer and we passed the cornbread and some home spun apple butter.   

The cornbread was delicious and the apple butter was so delightful. I had my full and followed it with some fresh milk that I had just brought in from one of the milk cows. We all were thankful that we had something on the table to eat. Many of the crops that were raised on the farm were bartered for other things so that the family could get by. While having breakfast, grandma told me a story about taking grandpa to town to see a dentist to get his tooth removed. She bartered away several bushels of corn and wheat for his tooth extraction. This past season had a bumper crop of some fruits and vegetables but not much cash. Bartering was the way things were done in those days. People were happy to provide a service for a fair exchange of items that had value to them and their families.    

After doing more chores it was time to collect some of the vegetables and place them in baskets on my grandfather’s truck. My grandparents were generous folks but they were very humble as well. They were just happy that they had more than enough to give to other families. So we loaded up the Model T- Ford Truck and headed off on a winding dirt path that eventually meandered to a bigger farm road. My grandfather drove for about ten minutes and slowed down by an old shack. The first family we visited that day was the Johnsons. They lived next door and were always in need because they had 9 kids who ate like a bunch of horses.  The oldest boy Jake was first to come out to greet us. Jake did not have good reputation because he was caught several times stealing things from other folks property in the county. Grandpa knew that Jake was stealing chickens so he would just leave out a few straggly ones near the fence for him to take. Grandpa did not like the idea of him stealing but he knew how hungry the kids were, so he felt sorry for him. It was kind of strange, but grandpa recalled times when he went hungry growing up as a child and talked about the crazy things he and his friends would do just to get a few apples. So when a few chickens were missing from his farm, Grandpa just looked the other way. Also Grandma would always say that all people had a bright side and a dark side. It was just that some folks had less light glowing in their lives than others but to Grandma they were all God’s children.

© Copyright 2011 John Michael Domino

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Reviewed by Regino Gonzales, Jr. 11/24/2012
I can relate to this story John, particularly the kindness of your Grandpa. He belongs to the nobility.


Reviewed by Carolyn Kingsley 4/29/2012
Very well written. My father often spoke of the Great Depression. He'd lived through it. I heard some interesting stories. In the south it was far worse. The southern 'good ol boys' went out in the woods and hunted for game. For years after it was over, daddy said you could hardly find a gopher anywhere, (land turtles.) I suppose most of them were eaten.
Reviewed by Donna Chandler 12/12/2011
I've heard similiar stories from my mother. This was a well-written rendention of the life and times of a generous and loving family.

Reviewed by J Howard 12/11/2011
less light glowing in their lives...what a wonderful closing ...or opening thought to ponder. thanks for your wonderful memories.
Reviewed by Paul Berube 12/11/2011
Held my interest well, John. Excellent story.

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