Lessons from the Depression: Families Pull Together


When the Depression hit, work stopped for Elsie Leighton’s father, a furrier. Nobody was buying many luxuries, let alone mink coats, in Brooklyn, N.Y. But the 85-year-old Leighton remembers the family pulling through. Even her two older brothers found jobs to help pay the bills.

Leighton eventually moved out to Rockville Centre, N.Y., with her late husband, working in offices when her three children went to college. She now splits her time between New York and Delray Beach, Fla.

Leighton told MainStreet her family’s story.

MainStreet.com: What do you remember about the Depression?

We moved into an apartment in a two-family house. My father was a furrier. He always made a very good living because of that. When the Depression came, of course, everything stopped. We moved into this apartment and my father used to do odd jobs in the house. I remember we had a friend, they were well off, and my father made her a mink coat. He always managed to find work. He even went out to (New) Jersey, there was a very fancy tailor. My father always managed to bring in some money. My brothers brought in some money. I remember my brothers having to go to work during the day and they finished college at night.

What did they do?

My brother Sol, I believe, worked in a drugstore behind the counter. I don't remember what my older brother did. I know that they did find work.

Did more people work when they were younger?

A lot of young people, they didn't even finish high school.

It was not unusual, it was the norm. They brought all the money back to the mother and father and they would get an allowance. Everything went into the family pot. This is a family, and this is what you do in a family.

How did you and your family make your lives more comfortable back then?

I remember my mother took her old clothes and remade them for me. When times were good my father did very well. She had beautiful clothes.

How did living during the Depression change your life?

I don’t think it impacted me as much as it did my brothers. I think I was sheltered a little. When I have money I spend it. I’m not a saver. I don’t go after bargains the way some people do. Maybe I should, but I don’t. But, you come out of it. We had a loving home, mother and father, and everybody was in the same boat. You have to have a tight-knit family. You help one another.

How is this recession the same as the Depression and how is it different?

I don’t think it’s the same. I don’t think it’s as bad…. Everything was shut down. It was really, really bad. I don’t see it in Florida here, anyway. I mean, I know a lot of people have lost houses that shouldn’t have bought them in the first place, and lost jobs. I still don’t think it’s as bad. I don’t know, I may be wrong. Somehow, someway, you get through it. If you have to change your lifestyle you change your lifestyle. Young people today they have a credit card, whether they can afford it or not. They buy, and they charge. I have a credit card, but at the end of each month I pay it in full. It’s a “me” a society, not a thinking society. You can’t have everything you want. You have to have money to do it.



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