Memories of Depression Summertimes Should Gladden Children's Hearts


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By EDNA BONNER
My Turn - 4/24/00

As the days gradually grow longer and decidedly warmer, you know summertime is just around the corner. Though the calendar might not verify that fact just yet, the sizzling 90-degree temperatures tell a different story.

The memories of summertime when I was a child growing up in the State Orphans Home outside Corsicana, from 1932 to 1941, are still fresh in my mind. The Depression days aren't that easy to forget.

The orphanage was a multitude of three-story red brick buildings. It was entirely self-contained, having its own schools, hospital, laundry, dairy farm etc. All our vegetables were grown there.

When summertime rolled around, there were no ``vacations'' and no couch potatoes in our midst. Life went on as usual. We all were trained early to perform certain duties to keep the home running.

Some worked in the laundry every day (ugh). Others were responsible for keeping the dormitories clean etc. I learned to wait tables in the dining hall, a job I performed from age 8 until I graduated from high school.

After a while I advanced to wait on the football players' table - what a thrill that was, for me at least - and later, after I became more skilled, I waited tables in the teachers' dining room. That was a real promotion, as the teachers' food was much better than what the children ate. In fact, I made friends overnight as the kids in my dorm hung around me as I cleaned the tables later, hoping for a handout.

But waiting tables didn't excuse me from other chores. Every summer in mid-morning we all gathered in a circle under a huge shade tree with our large aluminum pans and shelled black-eyed peas until we were cross-eyed. I swore that after I left I'd never eat another helping.

After our evening meal, we trudged back to summer school for an hour of study hall. I remember vividly how hot and muggy it was even with all the windows open. One evening a June bug flew in and a mischievous boy sitting behind me caught it and put it down the collar of my uniform. Everyone else thought it was a lot funnier than I did.

Our big treat came each Sunday evening when we all lined up for our dish of homemade ice cream made from the cream and milk from our own dairy farm. (Working in the dairy was the duty the boys seemed to hate most.)

An even bigger treat was each Fourth of July when we were served fried chicken. We lived for the day. If we were served it any other day, we knew instinctively trouble was brewing. It meant the bigwigs from Austin would be there, and they'd make the rounds of each table asking us if everything was OK. With a matron standing nearby glaring at us, we didn't dare say no.

But all in all, I have a lot of happy memories of those days. They strengthened me and gave me a great appreciation for the finer things in life.

Come this summer, the first time one of our visiting grandkids has the audacity to proclaim, ``I'm bored! What can I do now?'' I'll be primed. They will learn firsthand what a really great summertime they are having.

Edna Bonner of San Angelo is a free-lance writer.

 


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