The Great Depression: A First Hand Account

Going through some old family records recently, I discovered an old paper my uncle wrote about the Great Depression. After reading it I discovered that it was actually my great grandmother’s personal account of America after the stock market crash in the 1930’s. My great, great grandparents, Joseph and Marie Panucci were immigrants from Italy with Marie’s father before the depression, and my great grandmother, Ange Panucci Certo was born an American citizen and lived through the Depression.

The following is an excerpt of my uncle’s interview with Ange Panucci Certo:

“Being one of sixteen children, my family was not affected by the Depression, in many respects, because we already knew how to do without. It meant learning that others too were in the same predicament. Most of our neighborhood, and other families could not adjust having to do without certain things, such as new clothing, toys or gifts at Christmas, and all the extras in life. We had only the necessities in life, and that which kept us from hunger. My grandfather owned the house that we lived in. He had it enlarged and remodeled. It also meant that my older sisters had to leave school and go to help supplement my father’s income. He was very fortunate to be able to work every day in those days. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a trackman; and walked to and from work, about ten miles. Many a cold wintery night, he was called out to clear the tracks of snow and keep the tracks in working condition, as traveling at that time was primarily by railroad.

“My sisters worked at an enamel factory, which they too, had to walk to. The factory enameled pots, pans and cooking utensils. My mother was a great one, who fortunately liked to cook and bake her homemade bread and made her own pasta. Her baking was done in an open-hearth oven, which was located in a small portion of a very small backyard. She fed many with her variety of foods. In the spring and earlier months of summer, my parents raised rabbits and chickens, a few, a enough for ‘special events.’ We had a vegetable garden in a plot of ground nearby which my grandfather owned. My parents always had a beautiful and bountiful vegetable garden. This kept food on our table and kept the food bill down.”

“Society, in general was at a very low period. You could actually see sadness in peoples faces, many out of work, no money for food or to pay bills. Many food stores allowed credit from pay to pay for many families. Welfare Programs began helping, some with food and used clothing. My parents were to proud, and would never apply even though our family was eligible. People could be seen walking distances-out of their area, looking for work, and begging for money. Even if you had a car, there wasn’t money for gasoline. We did not have a car. This meant many worn-out shoes, which at times had many layers of paper in them, to cover up the holes. People could not pay for coal to heat their home. My father purchased railroad ties for our heating. This made for dirty walls and curtains. It became an emotional period for some people.

“The Depression taught me to conserve whenever I did get money, not to be wasteful, appreciate the necessities of life, and not worldly materials. It taught me to share with my sisters and others, take care of what I have, to make the best of a less-than perfect situation, and standing firm in my faith as my parents did at that time.”

“I learned to look past appearances, such as a person’s clothes, etc., to love others unconditionally. At times, I remember embarrassing and emotional situations, when children from smaller families had more than we could afford; but it taught me not to be envious of others; but it taught me not to be envious of others, because they shared their feeling for me as a human being, and helped me to reach a higher goal, to help my family and others as best that I can.”

The final line of my great grandmother’s story of the Depression reads, “We can’t waste time looking backward when there is so much to look forward in each new day.” As a family of immigrants they had little to begin with, especially since there were sixteen children in the family. However, as sad as it is, their large family enabled them to live through the depression with little change, and even help others along the way. Every word written above is what Ange Certo told my uncle Matt Conley, who wrote it all down. It has been my honor to write down her words to share with the school, and I hope I do her memory justice. For she was a wonderful, courageous, Christian woman.              

Sara K. Hinton, Class of 2017

 

 

 

 

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