The Great Depression
© 2009 by Mary McIntosh
The country was in the middle of a depression. The stock market crash of ’29 had hurt many people, and things were only getting worse; businesses closed, factories shut down, banks failed. One in every four Americans was unemployed. It was so bad it was referred to in capital letters. The Great Depression.
Men and women stood on street corners in New York City selling pencils and apples. Songs like Brother Can You Spare A Dime? Played on the radio.
And then came FDR. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president on Nov. 8, 1932, though he would not take office for several months.
One day shortly before the election, my dad talked to me about opening a bank account, of all things. And me, all of 11 years. “I’ll give you $1 a month for your allowance, and I want you to put 50 cents of it in a Christmas Club at the bank in our town. Toward the end of next year, the bank will give you the $6 you’ve saved, plus interest for using this money. In this way you’ll be able to buy Christmas presents.”
At first I wasn’t too happy about the idea. After all, he was asking me to part with half of what he gave me each month. If I did this, would I still have enough to buy Mary Janes—my favorite peanut butter and molasses candy? But the more I thought about it, the more excited I became. I didn’t think any of my friends were putting money away, as their families were harder off than we were. Being able to show them my own savings bank book might make me seem special to them, and I liked that idea. We had recently arrived from England, and some of the kids at school tittered behind my back at my funny accent. Maybe they’d think differently about me when I showed them how much money I was saving.
The next day my father accompanied me to the bank, and introduced me to the man behind the counter.
“Mary, this is Mr. Wilson. He’s here to take care of you.” I gave my money over to him and, with a big smile, he handed me a bankbook with my name in big letters on the front. I had opened my very own Christmas Club.
But things soon changed.
President Roosevelt ordered all financial institutions closed two days after his inaugural to stop a run on banks that had started a couple of weeks before. By proclaiming a “Bank Holiday” for 10 days, he hoped this action would stabilize the economy. But our bank never reopened, and I never got the $2.50 back that I had saved.
* * * *
Fourteen yeas passed. I stood in front of the judge, with only my brother and a friend as witnesses by my side. It was July in New York City and the fans blowing on us were not enough to stop the perspiration pouring from my body. He asked me various questions, such as the name of the mayor, and the length of time for which a senator was elected. I think I mumbled the answers. Eventually the judge smiled kindly at me, and granted me my citizenship.
I was then asked to check which political party I wished to join. Did I want to be a Democrat or a Republican? I pondered it. As I stood there, pencil in hand, poised over the form I’d been handed, all I could think about was how FDR, a Democratic president, caused me to lose $2.50 at a critical age in my young life. Never mind that by forming agencies like the National Recovery Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Project Administration and others, he created jobs for people, which helped pull the country out of the Great Depression. Never mind the fact that FDR had later guided us through WWII, and helped us win. At that moment, I could remember best how sad I felt in March 1933 when he closed the banks.
And so, on the day I became a new citizen of the great country that had adopted me, I markd the box that said Republican.
Here's a follow up to the story that might interest you. One of my friends here in the mobile park where I live discovered some Mary Jane candies and bought them for me. I didn't even know they still existed. Just for the heck of it I checked on the Internet and found the name of the president of the company which makes them, and sent him a copy of my story, underlining the couple of sentences which mentioned his candy. By the way, the company is NECCO as in New England Confectionary Co. Shortly afterwards I received a short hand-written note from the president including two large bags of Mary Janes.
I thought that was pretty neat.
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