A Depression-Era Doll

A tribute to a mom who appreciated hard work, a starched shirt, and a steady rhythm to her days.

by Sandi • More.com Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

Marion (a.k.a. Mom) lived a long, fruitful life. She was a wife, mother, grandmother. She was a daughter, sister, employee and friend. But she was so much more.

Mom was a child of the Great Depression. There aren't a whole lot of people around any more who remember those days. The feeling of desperation that gripped our country and the world. There was a whole mindset, a whole philosophy that came out of the Great Depression here in America. A set of rules for living. Hard work, honesty, making the most of every penny — such a dramatic contrast to our world today.

Mom told us how her mother ran a boarding house to make ends meet. There were always "strangers" at the dinner table, and no one was ever turned away. She had six brothers, and often talked about having to iron their shirts when they went out on a Saturday night. I remember when my mother ironed my own father's shirts; back then, there weren't steam irons with spray attachments. My mom mixed starch and water in an old Coke bottle with a sprinkler top. She sprinkled the shirts, rolled them up, and put them in the refrigerator until she was ready to tackle the wrinkles. Whenever Marion would tell those stories, I could close my eyes and smell the crisp scent of starch and hear the sizzle and crackle of the iron smoothing the wrinkles from that vast white expanse.

Mom saved her money, and always worked hard. She worked as a teenager. She worked as a young woman. During The Big One, WWII, she was in the service, and worked in Washington, D.C. After she told me those stories, I would think of her every time I watched Sink the Bismark and would picture her looking like a petite Dana Wynter. Her brothers, her husband were all in the service. Active players in a time that we can only appreciate watching Turner Classic Movies.

She lived during the '50s, the '60s. She raised children, cared for an aging mother. Her husband had a job that took him away from home during the week, and she never learned how to drive. But living in her hometown all her life, with family around her, she managed spectacularly. She stretched a dollar, cooked and cleaned, made a home.

Her children grew up during what I see as a golden era in America. It was just before the dramatic turmoil of Vietnam, Ohio State and the aftermath of Watergate. They lived in Small Town America. Old fashioned New England values and Red Flannel Hash. She sang in the church choir. They took summer vacations at Cape Cod.

Her life wasn't all roses. She wasn't Donna Reed in a twin set and pearls. She had more than her share of heartache and heartbreak. Nothing took her down. She stiffened her spine and stood tall, all five feet of her. She would give you a tongue lashing that would make you wish for waterboarding. She drew on the lessons she learned during the Great Depression to give her strength and guidelines as she navigated all the upheavals time brought to her.

She didn't like fancy food. She was always appreciative of any gifts, but she didn't like fancy clothes. She loved order and a steady rhythm to her days, and it often drove her crazy to be in our house with kids or dogs and constant motion. She didn't pretend to enjoy it. There were times when she terrified me and infuriated me. But I always knew where I stood.

She was incredibly kind-hearted underneath that flinty crust. She would come down from Massachusetts every year to attend Grandparents Day with my daughter. There was a grandmother closer, but only Marion made the trip. She gave my daughter an image of a grandmother who was tough but fair. Our girls may not have understood the harsh climate that developed her opinions, but they loved and respected her as the indomitable little lady she was.

Marion the Depression Doll fascinated me in many ways. I earned her approval and valued it all the more for it being hard won. I often wanted to ask her questions about the past, yet knew that she would not open those doors. I had to be content with the little peeks through the window of her memory that she granted from time to time.

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