Memory of the Time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A paper I wrote for one of my history classes, I interviewed my Grandmother. The paper earned me an A in the class.

All the names have been changed.

Submitted: July 29, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 29, 2011




“Memory of the Time”






Freshman History Seminar


It was October 29th, 1929.  The United States stock market crashed, and the American economy was sent spiraling down.  Several months before, in March of the same year, Jane Smith was born into a poor family in Texas.  Looking back, she remembers what she had heard when she was young about the very beginning of the Depression, when she was only a baby, and what she experienced during World War II.  People lost their jobs quickly.  She remembers that the Crash was so traumatic that many people who worked on Wall Street and in the money business killed themselves because they had lost their money. 

Mrs. Smith was personally affected by the depression.  Before the Depression, her father worked for the senior Hughes at a steel company as a machinist.  The company made parts for oil machinery, such as the drills for the rig.  Her father lost his job when she was less than three years old.  Because they could not afford their home, her grandfather suggested that the small family of three move from the house they had been living in (which was next to here grandfather’s home) to the family’s farm.  At the farm, they would always have enough food, and they would be able to make money.  At the farm, they had a huge garden that they shared with a family that was sharecropping on their land.  They also had a good-sized herd of cattle and cows, along with chickens, pigs, and many more animals they would typically have on a farm. 

While her father didn’t have a job, Mrs. Smith’s family made their own milk and butter and sold the surplus.  Her father eventually got a job at another oil well tool company: Mission Manufacturing Company.  The company was in Houston, about 270 miles from where they lived in Cypress.  Her father would drive a little Ford that she said “…you wouldn’t drive twenty miles now, but he drove it all the way to Houston… from Cypress for his job.”  Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Smith’s father, even though he was busy with his job in Houston, opened a sawmill in Cypress.  Along with supervising the sawmill and the oil company, Johnson also supervised the farm and dairy combination that they lived on, including the canning they did.  Handling all of these things was stressful for him.  One thing that helped reduce the stress for him were the two young men who worked for the family on the farm. 

Then Mrs. Smith went on to explain what it was like living in the household as a kid.  She says that they didn’t have any electric milkers for the cow, so they spent time milking the cows by hand.  In the house, they didn’t have electricity or running water.  They used lamps to light the house when it was dark and they bathed by taking a bucket out into the yard.  Mrs. Smith has memories of her father building a cement shower outside that supported a huge water tank that was filled by collecting rainwater and a windmill.  She explained that when one of her brothers was about three, the shower collapsed on top of him.  He wasn’t killed, but Mrs. Smith laughed at the fact that afterward, he was a mess, with all sorts of stuff in his hair.  She couldn’t remember if Mr. Johnson rebuilt the shower, but it had been there for a long time, so it had been only a matter of time before it fell. 

Despite the fact that they did not make much money, they ate well, and Mrs. Smith enjoyed her childhood.  They did not have to buy meat because they had animals that provided beef, pork, and chicken.  Along with the garden, they did not have to worry about food.  Close to the house, the family had a large pond.  Mrs. Smith remembers that she “lived” around the pond.  She searched for mussels and other things along the shore.  The daughter from the sharecropper family was her best friend at the time.  The two would climb up in the two big pecan trees on the property and “…play as long as we wanted to.”  Eventually, though, Mrs. Smith lost track of the girl, though she wished she hadn’t.

Even though Mrs. Smith enjoyed where she lived, the family still did not have much money.  At the worst of times, her younger brother had to wear her dresses, because they could not afford clothes for him.  She laughed at remembering this, commenting that they loved so far out from the city that no one would see them anyway.  They lived miles from any neighbors. 

Eventually though, they made enough money and things began to get better.  They were able to move into a house that Mr. Johnson had built, which was close to the one they had lived before.  Mrs. Smith said that they were well on their way to having a better life, even got to go to school. 

Then came along World War II.  Mrs. Smith noted that, “Back in those days, people were unbelievably patriotic.” 

At the time of World War II, the media was almost non-existent.  The only way they got the news was the radio and newspaper.  The only thing they heard about the war came from the radio.  Many people did not even have radios.  The problem with the radios was that only one view was coming toward them. 

Even at this time, the family still did multiple things to earn money.  At the time of the first part of WWII, Mrs. Smith’s grandfather owned a general merchandise store about a block and a half down from where they live.  Since their neighbor smoked, they would save the tin foil that was inside the cigarette.  Then, after they got a big ball of tin, they could turn it in for the war effort.  Because of the war, the government had everything rationed.  Mrs. Smith’s family had rationing coupons, where they could only get a certain amount of anything.  Mrs. Smith used margarine as an example.  She said that they could get a block of margarine.  The butter substitute was, as Smith described, “snow white,” and the people who distributed the margarine would give them a little packet of yellow dye.  They would mix it with the margarine and “that was our butter.”  She also stated that gas was also rationed, so they had to be careful about where they drove their car. 

Mrs. Smith told that World War II was an extremely dark time.  No one knew exactly what was going to happen.  Men marched off to war, sometimes for five or six years at a time.  They didn’t have the same type of communication as they do today, so they relied primarily on letters.  The letters could take days or even months to reach their destination. 

Smith told a story that involved the railroad tracks that her family lived by.  It was a common event to have troop trains go by their home.  When the train went by, the troops would wave and wave and wave to them as Mrs. Smith and all of her cousins ran out close the tracks.  If the troops could find something hard, they would write their name and their addresses down on something, then attach it to the hard object.  They would throw it out into the Johnson family yard and hope that the kids and their family would write to them.  Mrs. Smith laughed when she said that she never did write.  She said that she was too young to. 

Then Pearl Harbor happened.  Everybody was really surprised, since an attack on United States soil was completely unexpected.  The experience was horrific, and everyone thought that they would be next.  One of the main moral boosters, according to Mrs. Smith, was President Roosevelt’s fireside chat over the radio.  When Roosevelt died and Truman took over, he made up his mind to use the nuclear bomb to end the war.  In the present, Mrs. Smith has mixed feelings about the use of the weapon, but she realizes that people are now saying it saved more lives than it destroyed. 

Ms. Jane was just out of high school when people started coming back from the war.  She met one young man who had carried messages back and forth on a motorcycle.  Her cousin also came back from the war.  Her cousin had been torpedoed at sea and then spent several long hours treading water at sea.  When the ship went down, he was hit in the abdomen by the shrapnel.  Because of the injury, he had to have a major part of his intestinal track removed.  When he came back from war, he spent a lot of time at the Johnson household.  He was up most nights because he would have flashbacks about what had happened to him in the war, about all the horrific sights he was unfortunate enough to see.  Mrs. Smith would stay up some nights with him to keep him company and to talk to him. 

They had been close ever since she was a kid, and she was close to the rest of her cousins.  When she was about five, and her cousin that had been in the war was about fifteen or sixteen, all of his brothers had already moved out and only he and his sisters were left in the house.  When Mrs. Smith and her family would visit his family, he was always very shy.  She remembers that he was always “peeping around the corners.” 

Mrs. Smith and said cousin then became really close after the war, especially because she stayed up with him when he could not sleep.  Because he had spent so much time in the water, he had a fungus on his torso, which caused him to suffer and be miserable at times.  Even though he had trouble sleeping and the fungus, he still went on to lead a very happy life and have a family. 

The end of the war for her family started when people began to come back from the war.  Mrs. Smith went to the University of Houston and studied nursing.  She attended the University with a lot of veterans because the benefits that veterans get now involving school started after World War II.  The veterans had their education paid for by the government.  Many of them had families, so they lived in tiny apartments with their families while they were getting there education. 

Smith went on to explain that at the end of the war, the treaties were signed and that England was the United States’ biggest ally at the time. 

Even though she herself was born in the United States, her Grandfather was from Germany.  He had slightly mixed feelings about the war, because even though he was loyal to his adoptive country, he still had relatives in his home country.  There were rumors going around that German people, her grandfather included, had shortwave radios and that they were sending messages back to Germany.  He wasn’t.

After the end of the war, Germany was divided into East and West Germany.  Mrs. Smith’s grandfather’s nephew lived in East Germany with his family, and then they decided to try to make it to the United States.  When they got near the line of East and West Germany, the wife had to put all of her jewelry into her mouth, since anything other than the basics were not allowed across the line.  Once they crossed the line, they came over to the United States with Mrs. Smith’s grandfather as a sponsor.  When they got to the U.S., the family of three all slept in Mrs. Smith’s Aunt’s spare bedroom.  For a time, you couldn’t separate the family.  They were all nauseated because of what they went through.  Even though the daughter was a teen, she was old enough to remember some of what had happened.  What was ironic was that the father, Mrs. Smith’s grandfather’s nephew, served on a German U-boat during the war. 

When the family finally calmed down, they settled down right outside of San Antonio and opened a bakery.  When Mrs. Smith married, and her husband was stationed in San Antonio, they would go visit them.  Mrs. Smith lost track of the family. 

She then went on to explain that she had a pen pal during the time right before she graduated from high school and for a while after.  She was named Geraldine of Hawaii.  Ms. Geraldine would brag about how General Nimitz was their hero. 

Mrs. Smith had a good friend that died recently, in late September, that served in World War II.  During the war, he island hopped from Guadalcanal up through Japan.  He lost an eye, his hearing, and he ended up with shrapnel in his chest, in the back of one of his eyes (the one he lost) and in his brain.  He most definitely contributed more than the average person to the war effort, and he may receive a Medal of Honor.  He also received many other honors because of his sacrifices during the war.  Mrs. Smith considers him the most heroic person she knew.  I had the chance to talk with him several times before he died, though I never really knew what he had gone through.  Even though I did not know what he had gone through, I was able to tell that he was a person of great strength and courage, despite the fact that he could barely function by himself when he got older.  I have always wished that I was able to talk with him about the war, but not everything is possible. 

The negative emotion between opposite sides of the war was intense.  Mrs. Smith explained that they were taught to hate the Japanese and people like General Hirohito, the Head of State of Japan during the time.  Mrs. Smith notes that probably the only person who truly earned the world’s revulsion was Adolf Hitler himself.  Also during the time, Italy was an Axis power, so the young of America were taught to also hate them.  Mrs. Smith, along with many others of her generation considered France to be on the fence.  England was the United States’ strongest ally.  Switzerland, of course, stayed neutral during the time. 

It was at about this time that Mrs. Smith remembered that, along with her cousin that had the fungus all over his torso, she also had a pair of twin cousins that had joined the army.  While they were stationed in Germany, the pair looked up the relatives that were still in the country.  They did not have much success, apparently. 

Even though her grandfather was from Germany, Mrs. Smith said that he never seemed to look back.  He remained completely loyal to the country that had adopted him when he was nineteen.  Mrs. Smith’s grandmother, though, might have at some point.  Even though she wasn’t from Germany, “…she was very German.”  The whole entire family was still rooted in German culture.  Mrs. Smith’s grandparents continued to take the German newspapers, all in the German language.  The community they lived in was then, and still is to this very day, a German community. 

Mrs. Smith remembers going to church with her grandparents.  The sermon would be delivered two times per each service.  The first time would be in German, then the second time would be in English.  The whole community took part in keeping their German culture and their German heritage alive. 

Even with this, Mrs. Smith’s grandfather still did not look back and he barely mentioned more than was necessary for the community.  She wishes that she had been older and asked more questions of him. 

She did know that the family had been through many tragedies, especially her Grandmother.  She had a total of ten kids, but lost seven of them very early on, for example.  Even with the tragedies and the sad times, she continued to be productive, and Mrs. Smith really admired her. 

The town that all of this occurred in, Cypress, was the type of town where everybody knew everyone and everyone knew everybody. 

They lived across form the church at the time.  Many of the people in the town decided that they would not let their kids go to a funeral until they were eight or ten, but Mrs. Strickland joked about the fact that she and her siblings and her cousins went to every single funeral.  One of the special things about the church was that since Cypress was a small town at the time, every time a person died, the church would ring its bells, once for every year that the person lived.  While they were there, the kids had to clean the church, wash all the communion cups and the like.  Mrs. Smith’s grandfather also gave the land to the church that was used for the cemetery.  Many of our relatives are buried in that cemetery, since the family was so connected to the church.  The cemetery is still there now, and Mrs. Smith goes and visits when she’s in the area.  She told me that it was up to the families of those buried to keep the area clean, so about once a month, the women and the kids of the family could go and help clean up the graves. 

Even though it has been said that World War II really helped the United States recover from the Great Depression, Mrs. Smith said that one flowed into the other, and you could not really tell where on ended and the other began.  Such is life… such is life.


Based on the interview of Jane Smith on 1 October, 2010, by Zanzabaar.

© Copyright 2018 Zanzabaar . All rights reserved.

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