PARKERSBURG - Many wonder how they will get by if the current economic times get worse, but for those who lived through the Great Depression, self-sufficiency was the key during the hardest of times.
"It was a different world then," said H.C. Stanley, owner of H.C. Stanley and Son at 610 Pike St. in south Parkersburg.
Stanley was a young boy when the stock market crashed in October 1929 and was a young man helping his country beat Hitler in Europe by the time historians say the Great Depression ended. He spent most of his childhood and teen years working in his father's store.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
H.C. Stanley stands in front of the family grocery on Pike Street in Parkersburg he started working at as a teen and still owns.
There was little money anywhere, let alone discretionary income. Even if there had been, there was little time to spend it, Stanley said.
"You didn't have spare time. We worked six days a week in the store, 12 to15 hours a day. We opened at six (a.m.) and closed at nine that evening. On Sunday, you went to church and had the only good meal you had that week," Stanley said.
The store would be just as likely to accept fresh eggs from customers in exchange for goods as money, he said.
"People were self-sufficient in those times. They had to be. There wasn't much money anywhere. People improvised. They raised their own food and traded for what they needed. People survived. But even before the depression, people weren't used to having much. If it gets that bad now, I don't know what people would do, they aren't used to that. It would be a completely different world for them," Stanley said.
He said most everyone had a garden to sustain their families.
"That's what people had to do then. Most people had a garden. People plowed their garden with horses, there was somebody who came around with a plow and a horse and plowed gardens for people. People on southside had chickens, pigs and cows and people were always bringing eggs to the store and trade. I just don't know what people would do today, of course everybody on southside had to get rid of their chickens and hogs when it was incorporated into the city later," he said.
When Amma resident Howard Carper Jr. was a boy in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he and his family survived on what the land would provide and little else.
Unlike many families in more urban settings, they had meat at most meals. In the fall, they butchered hogs. Otherwise, the woods around the farm yielded the family's meat.
Every day after school, Carper and his older brother, the late Roscoe Carper Sr., scoured the woods near the farm for whatever small game they could find. There were no deer in that area then, so they kept the family fed with small game.
It was a daily routine, the boys came home from school, their mother, Annie Carper, would perhaps thrust a biscuit in their pockets, Roscoe grabbed a .22 rifle and off the boys went in search of game. As night fell, they returned home and their mother cleaned the game, soaked the meat in saltwater and stored it in the cool spring house for consumption the following day.
Carper said the boys learned a great deal about animals. They learned how they behaved and knew where they lived.
"The groundhogs, muskrats, squirrels, rabbits, possums, skunks and raccoons sure had a hard time when me and Roscoe was boys," Carper said.
Their hunting style bears little resemblance to most hunting today. It was Depression-era hunting, hunting that the family not only relied on for sustenance, but with a maxim of shooting only when absolutely necessary.
Larger animals, such as raccoons, Roscoe dispatched with the .22 rifle. Squirrels, however, the younger Carper brother sometimes killed with his bare hands. Shells, after all, cost money. Minor injuries from bites did not.
"We hunted with dogs and when the dogs would tree a squirrel and he'd go in his hole. I had a pair of lineman's spikes and I climbed the tree, reach in the hole and pull him out by the tail," Carper recalled.
Squirrels have long, sharp teeth for breaking into hard nuts for the meat inside. Those teeth also are very efficient against the hands of young boys reaching into their dens.
"Squirrels have sure got some teeth. I've got scars on my hands today from those squirrels," he said.
One of the worst scars comes from a time when Carper was locked in a life-and-death struggle with a squirrel and the only weapons the boy had were his thumb and forefinger.
"I stuck my fingers in his hole to pull him out by the tail, but as I was reaching in, he was coming out headfirst and latched on to my little finger. He about bit it plum off. I was up in the tree trying to choke him with my fingers and Ross (Carper) yells up 'You can't fall down, it's about 100 feet straight down over the hill.' It took a good while, but I finally got that squirrel strangled with my fingers. I've still got a scar from that," he said.
Just as in Parkersburg, Carper said there was virtually no actual money circulating in the Roane County economy. Muskrat hides, however, were an unofficial legal tender in Roane County. He traded 13 muskrat hides for his first rifle, a .22 single-shot Winchester.
For money Stanley delivered handbills in south Parkersburg.
"I delivered those handbills all day for a quarter and it took all day to deliver them. If I needed something, I saved it, if not I could take it and go to the Virginia Theater for a dime, buy a bag of popcorn for a nickel, then buy a hamburger and a coke with the other dime, but I only did that once every couple of months. The rest of the time, I needed it for shoes or clothes," Stanley recalled.
During the depression, people in south Parkersburg had far less meat than the Carpers. Typically, meat was consumed only one day a week - Sunday, Stanley said.
"Everybody had a chicken on Sunday. It was the cheapest meat and nobody had meat on other days. People didn't have much meat at all. It (the chicken meals) was a delight. The rest of the time, you ate cornbread, soup beans or whatever you could get, but we survived," he recalled.
Luxuries most hunters enjoy, such as warm clothing and Thermos bottles of hot coffee, were unknown, Carper said.
"There was a lot of times we went out and there'd be snow on the ground and we weren't wearing much more than a shirt," he recalled.
On the daily hunting foray, the Carper boys might have a fried-apple biscuit - the biscuits were made with water instead of milk - in their pockets or a glass jar of coffee. Once, the younger Carper fell onto his backside while carrying a glass jar of coffee in his back pocket.
"Mom spent all evening picking glass out of my rear end," Carper said.