Monday, February 27, 2012

Some years ago I was in a hardware store near Irwin, PA. It was close to quitting time and I was the only customer in the store. A number of older local men were standing at the cash register talking to the clerk. I was ready to check out but I wasn’t in a hurry, so I stopped to listen to the conversation.

The men were all older than I and had been schoolboys during the height of the depression. They were trading stories of their experiences during that time. I listened to tales of hard times, no work and little money. They told of the scarcities they endured, of patched clothing and no shoes. After a bit of time I ventured to ask them a question.

“Did you go hungry?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” they answered. “We had plenty of food.”

Irwin at the time of the depression was a rural area. Almost everyone had a garden and those that didn’t learned very quickly how to plant and maintain one. Most of the families were used to canning and preserving and there was no problem in having a stock of food.

I was younger than those men, having been born in 1932, in the third year of the depression, but my limited memories of that time were similar. My family did not lack for food. We also lived in the country and were used to raising and preserving our own food.

What would the situation be if a similar hard time happened in this day? How many people would be in the position of already raising and preserving their food? How many would be in a position to learn? How does one, for instance, turn a sweet pumpkin into a pumpkin pie from scratch? How many possess the equipment and knowledge to do that? And how many could do so if it happened that they were denied, either by lack of supply or cash, access to electricity, water, natural gas or gasoline? And, assuming a family were able to get seeds in the ground and successfully harvest a crop, would they, in this day of genetically altered seeds, be able to repeat that a second year without having money to pay for the new seeds required?

The depression that occurred from 1929 through the early 40’s was something no one foresaw and, apparently, no one could prevent. If such a depression occurred today it would have more disastrous results. The conditions for that we are largely creating ourselves.

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