July 7, 2008
People who grew up during the Great Depression have lessons for those of us born and raised in the years since. A few Depression survivors are still here, and they can teach us whippersnappers a great deal about self reliance, self control, neighborliness – and most important of all, survival skills.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of these survivors. Without exception, they not only see – but treasure – the humor in their most devastating predicaments.
A fella I’ll call Chet says, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as a bank and that people actually put their money in it until I was grown. When we needed money we knew which fence post to dig beside.”
His dad was a successful bootlegger who put his still in the local preacher’s pasture. It never was found by the revenooers or, worse, thieves. He laughingly tells of futile searches all over his family’s ranch.
The serious part of this story, which he doesn’t mention, is the ranch had no grass, no cattle left, no way to make a living – except with that still.
The best place to taste Chet’s father’s whiskey was at a country dance – outside. Going out for a “breath of fresh air” included whiskey purchases delivered in Mason jars.
Tired of trying to pay for and, worse, digest that whiskey, an enterprising bachelor cowboy called Heck decided he’d rather have beer, and that he could probably brew up his own. He went to town and found a quiet-mouth storekeeper who helped him purchase yeast and the other necessities along with a five-gallon crock.
Back at the ranch he set it all up beside the wood cookstove in the kitchen, watching and smelling the fermentation process. What fun!
The day he reckoned it was time to do the bottling his older sister showed up. She did not approve his adventure at all, but times were hard and he’d spent a bit of money on all this so he talked her into helping with the bottling (as a favor, to save money of course).
Years later Heck loved describing his sister, bent over the table, trying to get the caps on the dark brown bottles. “That’s the only time I ever remember her not trying to tell me how to do something,” he said.
At day’s end they had about 40 beer bottles, nicely filled and capped. Heck tasted one, and pronounced it “super-delicious.” Sister drew the line at tasting. Wouldn’t touch a sip.
After supper they stashed the bottles in a closet. Heck went to sleep dreaming of enjoying his great beer.