Six years ago, I sat down with my Dad and asked him to tell me some of his stories. I’d heard a lot of them, but once he got going, Dad surprised both of us with all the things he remembered about growing up in a small town during The Great Depression and all the jobs he’d held in his lifetime.
I had a reason for asking Dad to share some stories. We planned to capture them and put them into a little book. I wanted my children and grandchildren to remember and know this interesting fellow, and I hoped to share his stories with the community he loved so much.
Dad was 83 at the time and his memory was “sharp as a tack.” Today, at 89 so many memories have faded — including the knowledge of what he had for breakfast. The decision to capture those memories came none-too-soon and today, I am grateful for the legacy he created, one story at a time. I’m sharing with you one of those stories.
The Wilson Boys Help Put Food on the Table
It was the mid-1930s and the nation was in the throes of The Great Depression. Dad’s father, Lorne, no longer sold cars, but had developed a reputation as a good mechanic. Like most working men of his time, Lorne barely made enough at his job fixing cars at the Albion Ford Garage to keep Ruby and their growing family under roof.
As soon as Dad and his older brother, Bill, were able to pull a wagon, they were sent out to collect newspapers and all types of metal. The papers went to a local factory to be used as packaging material and the metal was contributed to the build-up to World War II. After scouring the neighborhood and gathering what they could find, they drug the loaded wagon to the former school house on Hickory Street, where they were paid pennies for their haul. Every coin was turned over to their Mother, with a promise that a few would come back to them on a future trip to the candy store.
When there weren’t papers and metal to scavenge there were onions and mint to weed and tomatoes to pick. For 50 cents, Dad would spend the day on his hands and knees in the onion fields west of Albion, pulling weeds. Or he’d catch a ride to the mint and tomato fields to tend the plants. Again, every cent went to Mother.
Dad’s Mother, Ruby, kept the home fires burning, literally.
“My Dad never messed with stuff. He just got up and ate breakfast and went to work,” remembers Dad. “The cook stove that we had was the old kind that you see that you fire with wood – flat top with lids you could take off. Had a warming shelf up above, fire at the left, reservoir at the right, an oven down below where you baked and made stuff. You always had to clean the firebox out because your ashes would build up. You had to clean them out so you could start over. Mom was up early every day, got that fire going before we were up.
“Brother Bill and I would come home from delivering the Journal Gazette, before anybody else was up, and take turns sticking our frozen feet into the oven.”
Dad and “Brother Bill”, as he always called him, worked in tandem on most of his childhood jobs, including the early morning delivery of The Journal Gazette. They gathered their papers at the Noble County Courthouse and one boy took the north end of town, the other the south. Dad remembers one winter morning when the early hours were too much for Bill. Dad returned from his route to discover Bill sleeping next to a mound of unfolded newspapers. He rousted his brother, who was already late for the milk delivery route he ran for Gib Russell. Bill took off to deliver milk while his brother quickly folded and stuffed newspapers into his now-empty bag and got them delivered in time to make it to school.
Newspapers were an important form of communication during the late 1930s. Albion residents received not only the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel, but also a weekly edition of The Noble County American and The Albion New Era. The Wilson boys kept their newspaper delivery routes for years, adding other jobs as they came along.
Small town households also depended on the delivery of fresh milk and ice every day in the 1930s. The ice was kept in an insulated wooden box, called an “ice box”, where perishable food was stored.
“The ice man had cards with writing on both sides. The top half would request one size of ice, the bottom another. Turn it around and there’d be two more. You could order any one of four different sizes of ice. The ice man could see the sign and knew what to bring you.”
After all her boys began attending school, Ruby found work at Thomas’ Novelty Factory in the old schoolhouse on Hickory Street. The factory produced “knickknacks” – sewing boxes, toys, magazine racks and other gift items made out of wood. Employees assembled and finished the products for shipment all over the country. The boys would scrounge the factory’s trash bins for rejects, rescuing them as found “treasures”.
Capturing and sharing our life stories for healing, legacy and discipleship is something I talk about quite a bit these days. In fact, it’s kind of a passion for me. One of my favorite quotes on story comes from Frederick Buechner. “To lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished, not only humanly but also spiritually.” Our stories have the power to heal old wounds, to knit families together and to introduce others to Jesus. It’s important that we don’t lose those stories. Today, I took the liberty of sharing a piece of my Dad’s book of stories in response to the Five Minute Friday prompt “capture.” Enjoy!