Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

Great Depression: One Prune

Those who are my age or thereabout lived through the Great Depression. We started to school in 1928 and finished in 1939, as there were only 11 grades in school back then.

Life had been hard since jobs were hard to get and money was scarce. Tight budgets were still in place when I was in High School.

Our Home Ec cottage was a small white frame building just past the 1925 High School Building.

The front part of the building was where we had our written lessons, with a kitchen, sewing room and a dining room behind that room. There was a tiny room upstairs that was the "sick room" where students waited to be carried home or to catch the school bus home.

I remember Miss Elouise Sanders who was our Home Economics teacher. Later, she married John Watkins.

The cooking lessons seem funny now, but I never questioned the lessons back then because it was how we learned. The money for the Home Ec classes was short and we had to make do with what our teacher could afford to use.

The first cooking lesson that I had was learning to prepare breakfast food. She had each of us cook one (1) prune in a pan of water. And then the cooking of Cream of Wheat entailed having one (1) teaspoon of Cream of Wheat to prepare. I don't remember just how little water that I used but it must have been a very little.

There was no money for us to purchase school supplies and apparently the State of Louisiana realized that.

They issued each of us a tablet of rough paper, I think it was called a "Big Chief" tablet, and we received 21 sheets of lined white notebook paper. This was for a month.

We also received a little cedar pencil. That paper was dear to me. I was taking typing and I typed my papers for homework on the lined notebook paper. When that gave out I used the rough off-white tablet paper to type on.

Up until a couple of years ago I still had some of the reports that I typed in 1938. The business teacher was lenient. She never chided me on what I had typed my homework on.

When I hand wrote homework for some class, I wrote exceedingly small to conserve the paper.

I didn't feel deprived because I had never had plenty of paper since I started school in 1928 and lived all my school days during the depression.

In years gone by the Home Economics classes had made smocks their freshman year in sewing classes. Now they make little aprons – that required about a fourth of the yardage to make a smock.

I remember that the material to make the pajamas I made my second year in Home Ec cost 15 cents a yard, and it was a good fabric. Three yards would make the pajamas at a cost of 45 cents, plus a spool of thread and a pattern.

We had projects that we selected to do at home for part of our homework. I listened to some of the girls' reports and I knew that some of them were "lying through their teeth" about the meals that they said they prepared for their families.

It sounded like a dream meal, and I knew that they were not able to afford what they said they prepared.

They were too proud to tell what they really had for their meal. Miss Sanders never questioned their reports. I think she did not want to embarrass the girls. She never ridiculed the simple things most of us took as our project. She made me want to be a Home Ec teacher like she was.

Almost all of those who lived through those years in the thirties were in the same situation. Not enough money to take care of necessities, much less things that we would have liked to have.

It may be that I may have to draw on my memories of how my mother and I coped during those years once again if a depression returns.

One thing that irks me today is the statement of people who say that the reason some young man or woman gets into trouble is because they live in poverty. Not so.

Many of my age group had little to wear, had little to eat, and worked at any job we could get, no matter how little it paid.

I cannot think of a single member of my 1939 class of 84 students that became criminals or commited any criminal act.

Many of our classmates went on to college, many with their GI Bill of Rights, and achieved success in their chosen fields.

So crime is not always the result of hunger, or lack of money. Someone has said that it is not the wind that blows, but it is the set of your sails that determine where you will go.

No matter how bad times were my mother would always emphasize the right way to live, the way Jesus expected Christians to conduct their lives.

I feel like the reason so many of my classmates went on to higher and better things in life was because of the families they were reared in and the values they were taught by the example of their parents.

When I pass the 1925 High School Building I remember the white cottage, our Home Ec Cottage. that was on the other side of the brick building (that little white building has now been torn down.).

And I remember that one little prune, and I can just see that teaspoon of Cream of Wheat.

Now it is almost funny, but it was deadly serious back then. We wanted to learn and the principle was the same for one prune or for a package of prunes. Miss Sanders (Mrs. Watkins) was just one of the many teachers that meant so much to me and I will never forget.

I wanted to be a Home Ec teacher just like her, but there was no money for college so I ended up taking a business course, taking all the bookkeeping that was offered. (And I am still using those skills today as I still keep books for a road sub-contractor) And I still use the things that Miss Sanders (later Mrs. Watkins) taught me.

Do you know how to cook prunes?

Juanita Agan passed away in October, 2008 at the age of 85. She had been a Minden resident since 1935 and a columnist for the Press-Herald since 1995. A constant writer, Mrs. Agan had many stories written but unpublished. The Press-Herald will continue to publish these articles as long as they are submitted.

 

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