To live in rural Alabama during the early ninteen-thirties was about as fun as eating a bowlful of dirt. Take it from ninety-year-old Miss Sarah, who spent her early childhood in the poverty of this forgotten era.
“Back then,” said Sarah. “My brother and I outgrew our shoes. And because Daddy had no money, we didn’t get new ones. Had to go without. Daddy wouldn’t even let us walk into town. He didn’t want other folks seeing us barefoot, knowing how poor we were.”
You’d never know Sarah survived the Great Depression to look at her. When I met her, she wore a pastel pant suit, complimented by her brilliant white hair. And, it bears mentioning: I’ve never seen so many pearls on one woman before.
“See,” she went on. “When cotton prices fell to rock bottom, and the boll weevil ruined Daddy’s crop one year, we fell on hard times. It only took a few months.” She snapped her fingers. “We had nothin’.”
Today, such a statement might mean not having cable television, internet, or health insurance. In Sarah’s childhood, it meant sewing dresses from feed sacks, making soup out of ketchup and water, bathing in the creek with no soap.
And eating grits.
“We ate grits until I hated them,” said Sarah. “It was all we had. Grits, grits, grits, every day. Daddy took ill, the doctor said it was because he wasn’t getting enough nutrition from just eating hominy.”
In fact, her father became so sick, he was too weak to work his wage labor job at a nearby farm. So, Sarah’s mother took on the role of family breadwinner.
Her mother walked miles into town to take in laundry. She also worked as a seamstress, cleaned houses, cooked, and even gave piano lessons to local children—one dime per lesson.
“I’ve forgotten a lot from those years,” said Sarah, closing her eyes. “But I can still see Mama feeding Daddy while he laid in bed. Once, someone gave her a rabbit, she made stew, and fed it all to Daddy. You ain’t never seen such sacrifice.”
No, I haven’t. Truth told, I get lightheaded when I skip lunch.
“I never saw my mama complain,” she said. “And it would’ve been so easy to do that. But she used to say, ‘It won’t be long, Sarah, God’ll make everything right again. Just you wait.'”
Sarah sighed. “She was the strongest woman I ever knew. I don’t know, maybe that’s not exactly the interesting story you were hoping to write about.”
Yes it was.