Depression Era: "Make-Do" Attitude

Colorado woman shares vivid memories from her childhood in the depression era, of hardships and her parents' "Make-Do" attitude

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As a child of the Depression era, I have many vivid memories. The strongest, perhaps, is seeing two teenage boys, just off a freight train, wolfing down a can of beans and a chunk of bologna on the curb outside the grocery store while I was on my way to school.

I remember the whispered conversations of adults about money - and its lack there of - and how to "make do." That has marked me to this day, I think, for I am thrifty to the point of penny-squeezing, and today's inflation strikes me as both horrible and terrifying.

But for a child, there were happy times, too, sometimes made out of the adults' adversity. I remember considering it a special treat when my father would come home early with his lunch still in its black tin box, and I would help him eat it, myself all unaware that he was home early because the job of day labor on which he had depended had fallen through.

One incident that was both sad and funny concerned my bout with the chicken pox. In those days, the house would be quarantined for a certain period. Since my father wanted to continue working and could not afford to board away from the house, my parents and the doctor did not report my case to the grade school nurse, a real tyrant. (The family of the boy next door did the same when he had whooping cough.)

Inevitably, since there was no word of what really ailed me, rumors began among my friends. I belonged to a group of little girls who called our selves the "Busy Bees." We met and played and sometimes tried to sew. But the six of us eight-year-olds were very close and my friends began to worry about my continued absence from school.

One Saturday morning a delegation of sad-faced little girls appeared at the door. Considering my infection, my mother could not let them in but talked to them at the door.

They explained that they had heard I had chopped my foot off with an ax! They then presented my mother with a basket of fruit for the invalid. I learned later that it had cost them our entire treasury of thirty-eight cents!

Mother assured them I had not cut off my foot, that I was getting better, that I would be back in school soon, and thanked them profusely for the gift. She knew what a real sacrifice that had been in those penniless days.

Elizabeth Shafer
Colorado Springs, Colorado


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.