Growing Up During the Great Depression: Hot Summer Nights on the Family Farm

Growing up on the family farm during the Great Depression, a Missouri woman recalls life-shaping conversations with her mother

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We provided our own entertainment when I was growing up just after the Great Depression on our family farm.

"Saturday Night Live" was a hot summer evening sitting on the porch with Dad and Mom. In the early twilight, we fanned the hot, stifling muggy air, hoping for a tiny breeze to relieve the heat.

The pale moon rode high in the sky among stars that stood out like sparkly diamonds against black velvet, while frogs croaked to each other on the banks of the creek below the garden in the meadow and fireflies twinkled in the heavy air.

A low, gentle moo was heard from a cow nearby making sure her calf was safe and comfortable for the night. A disgruntled hen clucked her disgust as a roost mate took some of her space and disturbed her sleep.

The nearest light was more than a mile away. I felt like the blackness would swallow me as I sat there with the warm air caressing my face. The nighttime seemed friendly as Dad identified its sounds: the bullfrog, cicadas or katydids, tree frogs and others.

As I wiggled to find a more comfortable position, I squashed an inquisitive June bug. That helped to make up for the one that had somehow gotten into my bed and crawled up my arm just as I had gotten to sleep after what seemed like hours of tossing and turning on those hot, white sheets the previous night.

I pumped water out of the old hand pump into the washpan. The water came from the far depths and was icy cold. Goosebumps ran all over me as I plunged the stubbed toes and nettle-ridden feet of my barefoot days into that delicious coolness.

If there was money left after necessities were bought with the egg and milk checks, Dad would purchase a case of Double Cola and a 50-pound block of ice. We would sit in the darkness and sip the cooled nectar with the chipped ice.

Mother always had a saying for everything, and when she wanted to tell me something, but I wasn't supposed to tell the world, she would say, "Just between you and me and the gatepost." There's something about sitting together in the dark as a family and sharing your deepest thoughts without any interruptions that brings a closeness you never forget. And that's "Just between you and me and the gatepost."

Neoma Foreman
Walker, Missouri


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.