Hard Times Come Again No More

She is 92 years old and she has seen everything. Today she lives in an upscale nursing facility. I called her this morning for a brief phone interview and after a few moments of conversation, I realized this old woman really had seen everything.

She was born the same year the Great Depression began. She experienced hard times, world war, the death of children, abject poverty, prohibition.

I asked how her family got through such difficult years. She laughed and said, “We just kept telling ourselves that good times were around the corner.”

Good times. Ironically, one year ago today I was wondering what would become of America’s good times. Because at exactly this time last year I was standing in a rural Mississippi gas station when first I saw a newspaper bearing the headline “COVID-19.”

I had never seen this term before. I remember feeling a sudden chill sweep over me when I saw the word “EPIDEMIC” printed in huge letters.

When I reached the cashier she was wearing a surgical mask and gloves. I’d never known anyone to dress this way except for maybe Michael Jackson.

Within the following weeks the whole world shut down, everyone was socially distant, TV news channels were delivering round-the-clock updates on the unfolding toilet paper crisis.

“This pandemic is a lot like the Depression,” says the old woman. “All this uncertainty, all the fear in the air. Brings back a lotta bad memories.”

Of course, she’s not suggesting that the pandemic is on the same scale as the Depression. No way. Our ancestors suffered in ways that we could never understand. We are a fortunate generation, we can order instant takeout via smartphone apps. During the Depression, families were so hungry they resorted to eating shoe leather.

I once heard an elderly man say that his family survived on ketchup and creek-water soup.

I have interviewed dozens of Depression survivors. The stories our ancestors could tell would turn most grown men into puddles. There is no doubt that what our forebears endured makes our pandemic look like a day at Magic Kingdom.

But I’ve noticed something else during these interviews: few survivors can recall exactly when the Depression officially ended.

I find this astounding. Especially since most survivors can remember precisely when the Depression began, who was President, where they lived, what grade they were in. But they can’t remember the end?

The reason, I guess, is because the Depression didn’t end all at once. Even though America’s Hard Times were officially over in ‘39, it’s laughable to think everything went back to being hunky-dory. People were still starving. The world was still a mess. And only two years later the U.S. entered a war that would kill 75 million.

So why am I telling you this? Why the boring ninth-grade history review? Because here’s the thing, eventually the Great Depression DID end. And so will this pandemic.

For those who endured the Great Depression, life got a LOT better during the 1950s. Any elderly survivor will tell you the ‘50s were a sacred decade of backyard barbecues, neighborhood cocktail parties, front yard croquet, Jackie Gleason, whiskey sours, all-American road trips, and Perry Como.

Compared to the previous decades, the 1950s were pants-off-dance-off. The war was over. Jobs were everywhere. Businesses were flourishing. Young couples were popping out babies like broken slot machines. There were 4.3 million U.S. births in 1957 alone—a record breaking year for America.

People were glad to be normal again. Young folks were getting married right and left. For crying out loud, nearly 80 percent of American households were married couples (today only 48 percent of Americans are married).

And Lord, the cars. Average Americans were buying new cars like crazy in the ‘50s. The whole nation went nuts over automobiles. A total of 58 million cars were cranked out by the end of the decade.

Amazingly, in case you forgot what my point was, all the marvelous things I just described happened directly AFTER the worst disasters in the industrialized world.

So what does this mean for you and me? It means that we have survived a lot within these last 365 days. And it’s not over. These are our Hard Times. This is our big test.

I’ve known people who lost everything. I have friends who died. I know too many who have lost jobs, homes, businesses, their mental health, and money. This has been the most difficult period in my own personal history.

But just look at us. We are still here. We have survived this godawful year, and we will survive the other years too. We still have each other. And we can still fog up a mirror.

Someday, years from now, long after this mess is over, you will be older, with a head of white, maybe living in a nursing facility. Maybe one day some young writer will call you and ask for an interview. Maybe you’ll oblige him, answer the phone, humor him, and listen to his questions graciously.

And when you hear the uncertainty in his voice, and the twinges of fear, you will gently remind this young man that no matter how bad things look, good times truly are around the corner.

You will say this to him with conviction, not because you are hopeful. But because you are 92 years old.

And you really have seen everything.


  1. Julie - February 26, 2021 7:08 am

    Bless you, Sean, for this much needed message of encouragement and hopefulness today. By sharing your interview with the 92 year old, who “saw it all”, we can see through her eyes, that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel for us, as it was for her.

  2. T. Gregory - February 26, 2021 11:31 am

    Good reminder. Thank you, Sean. P.S. was that you at the fancy Chick-Fil-A drive thru the other day? Next time I see you, I’ll buy you a lemonade – that sweet perfection that comes after the sour gets crushed. Some lemonade may be 92 years in the making.

  3. Lucinda - February 26, 2021 12:47 pm

    Thanks Sean. Sharing on my socials today.
    Reminds me of Mama (94 and in an assisted living facility)
    Inspiring us ball…

  4. Christine - February 26, 2021 1:37 pm

    Yes, God us still on the throne and He will see us through this time, just like the precious lady you interviewed. She’s seen a lot of heartache but she is still here to tell her story.

  5. Janie F. - February 26, 2021 1:56 pm


  6. Leigh R Amiot - February 26, 2021 2:41 pm

    I’m 57, my sister is almost 66, and we’ve said to one another it seems the older women we knew while growing up were stronger than we are. It really is up to us who are older to be strong, be the example, be the ones who know what to think and do in hard times. This precious 92-year-old is exactly who and what I want to be in a crisis. My condolences, Sean, on your losses. My husband lost a friend his age, 67, and our sons’ former 4th grade teacher died at 95 of covid-19.

    The last three sentences of your column were just perfect, and one more thing, according to a young man who just bought an old truck of my husband’s, the corona virus baby boom is already happening–his wife works on an obstetrics floor in southern Georgia.

  7. Janette J. Anderson - February 26, 2021 2:48 pm

    Your “musings” are, indeed, a “breath of fresh air” and a gentle hug each day, to this retired high school English teacher of 44 years “in the trenches”! Yes, this year has been like none other in my almost 73- year journey on Earth! By gosh, though, I WILL survive it! Thank you for sharing your gift of writing, your wit, and your almost clairvoyant understanding of the human heart, mind, and psyche with those of us who clamor to read your clever and “tugging at our heartstrings” offerings each day. I thank God for you and for Lewis Grizzard (who, like Alan Jackson, is from my hometown of Newnan, GA)! Lewis left us FAR too soon … I pray you’ll hang around and keep reminding us of the simple wonders of life for a while!

  8. Janis - February 26, 2021 2:58 pm

    Totally appropriate reminder, Sean. Thank you.

  9. Jenny Young - February 26, 2021 3:04 pm

    This made me think of the following post from Kirk Neely. He said that when he was a teenager in 1960, his grandpa showed him a check he had just written…it was the final payment for debt he had made from the Great Depression….he had borrowed to keep his family going & it took him that long to pay it back. Kirk is a much better writer than I am so check out the post. I think you’ll appreciate it.

    (You are my favorite writer … I have a hard time not driving my friends crazy sharing everything you write & quite a few of them tell me they now read every post whether I share it or not! This is probably the only post of Kirk’s that I’ve ever shared.)

  10. michael bignoli - February 26, 2021 3:15 pm

    Thank you for your words of encouragement Sean! I needed some uplifting today.

  11. Connie - February 26, 2021 3:40 pm

    We will make it through this like we have made it through so many other things. Thank you for your encouragement. Sending best wishes to you and Jamie and your families.

  12. Karen - February 26, 2021 4:16 pm

    Perspective-it always seems to come when I need it most, like today. Thanks to you Sean and this dear woman.

  13. Cheryl C. Hill - February 26, 2021 4:17 pm

    I love your postings, and you!! But please do remember that the 1950s weren’t wonderful for everyone. If you were a person of color, you still had to deal with prejudice, segregation and Jim Crow laws. My family and I are white and have never had to experience any of that. But for those who are of color, life was and is very different and I think we need to recognize this.

    Stay safe!

  14. Bob Brenner - February 26, 2021 4:28 pm

    Sean, I’m passing this along to all six of my children! This will cheer them up and let them know “Good times are coming”.

  15. Dean - February 26, 2021 4:29 pm

    Had a lot of tragic things happen this year but trying to hang on. Always love reading your column

  16. Gayle Wilson - February 26, 2021 5:03 pm

    Sean, thank you for reminding us that there is light at the end of this tunnel. I believe there will be many who will never remember when this pandemic ends because we have been affected in so many different ways. Even if we have not had COVID, known anyone who died from COVID, nor lost jobs, there is still the mental health of so many adults and children that have been affected by this pandemic. I want to be optimistic and believe that those that have suffered any kind of affect from this will be able to overcome. The one thing I would say to them is don’t listen to, or read, the news because they will convince you otherwise. Thank you for giving us light at the end of the tunnel and for raising our spirits.

  17. Jan - February 26, 2021 5:06 pm

    This column is full of the characteristic I love so much about your writing … you are so very good at not only finding the silver lining and the rainbow but you can make us all see it too. There it is, just over the next horizon!

  18. Clara Edwards - February 26, 2021 5:57 pm

    This is a wonderful article and I was blessed to have wonderful parents that told me similar things. Sure is nice to be reminded. Nothing personal, but I sure wish I could hear my parents tell these stories again! I admire you so much and your stories often make me cry. Happy tears and sometimes sad, but I try not to miss a single one. Much love to you and your wonderful (well, according to your stories) family! Keep writing. We need more people in the world like you!

  19. cekey44 - February 26, 2021 6:04 pm

    Keep up the good work. Your writing has made me laugh and made me cry but I try to be sure to read it every day. Thank you. I hope this helps offset any negative comments you receive. Unfortunately to many people are more willing to complain than complement.

  20. Linda Moon - February 26, 2021 6:08 pm

    I like passing tests. I liked giving tests. I loved seeing my students’ faces when they had made a good grade on a big test. If you’re still around when I’m 92, young man, I’ll listen to and answer all of your questions. Thank you for telling us the old woman’s hope-filled history and your survival stories, too. All this will one day become a history lesson for a new generation of students. A+… for YOU, writer and teacher!

  21. elizabethroosje - February 26, 2021 7:16 pm

    Sean, for you to say this has been the hardest time of your life is really saying something, given that you have been through a LOT of hard. So first I will say we are and will continue to pray for you, Jamie and M. Mary 3x a day. I pray that you will have encouragement and comfort in this huge hard time that we are all enduring in different ways and situations. Second, your book Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a GEM, an absolute treasure of wit, humour, encouragement and hope. I LOVE your book. Third, I just read your new sent-to-me-early via bookshop website novel, the Incredible Winston Brown and I read it in ONE day and REALLY loved it. I already blogged about this and will do so again, DV. It’s well written, enjoyable, poignant hopeful beautiful and a wonderful read. I just loved it. I think I am just a bit older than you (at 44) so I guess when I tell you I feel proud of you it’s coming from someone of your own generation. Also, I have to think that Jamie is as tough as Jessie in the novel is. I won’t give any spoilers but I read the paragraph about the marble shooter to my Husband, it as just perfect. I am just so happy that you write books that are both serious but uplifting and beautiful. Keep at it. The world needs writers like YOU and only you can write your books, no other. I keep thinking of the author Gary Schmidt, you remind me of some of his books. If you have not read them, look him up. Also if you don’t know Anne Carol George who died in Birmingham AL in 2001 I think you would like her novel, This One and Magic Life. It’s Southern like yours. Good job Sean and hooray for Jamie who is right there with you!

  22. Cherie Ray - February 26, 2021 7:29 pm

    I needed to hear this today. Thank you!

  23. Denise M Hendricks - February 26, 2021 8:13 pm

    My mother-in-law lives with us and she is 103. She was born in 1918, the year “the other pandemic” began. So people were optimistic back then as we should be today. Thank you, Sean, for this reminder. We all need to remember that God is in control. Take care!

  24. Richard Cobb - February 27, 2021 4:50 am

    Sean ,as to when the Depression ended. It ended at different times in different places. Some places here in Alabama got out of it as soon as 1940, if that area was lucky enough to have a defense -related industry. Huntsville , the Shoals area , and other industrial areas made great progress in 1940-1941. Other parts of Alabama, like much of the rest of the country, got out of the Depression as soon as WWII rearmament brought jobs. However, some areas of Alabama provided nothing but manpower in WWII. According to some authors (see Tenn-Tom Country by Doster and Weaver), some west Alabama counties like Lamar, Pickens and Marion,did not get out of the Depression until the 1970s! My wife Nancy is from Lamar County, and she can remember “going on the harvest” to Indiana and Michigan in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Her grandmother did not get electricity until 1952 or 1953. In Florence we got cable TV in 1954, when I was 7.About that time ,my wife Nancy’s family was going to Florida to find work. My dad was a machinist for TVA and I thought I had it bad. When the mobile home production boom ended in west Alabama,that area went back to a Depression- era lifestyle. Today, the only careers open to a boy who graduates from high school in Nancy’s Lamar County is pulpwood logging or cooking meth. Those with ambition leave. Then ,again ,there are the Blackbelt Counties-so called because of the black soil derived from the Selma chalk(and other young,poorly cemented limestones). They probably were no worse off in the 30’s than they were decades before. Those counties are still abyssamly poor,with no economic hope on the horizon. To make matters worse, the local governments are notoriously corrupt there. l guess all this says that our economic health is very fragile, with some parts of any given county doing well, but other parts suffering. I guess that is a part of life that will change, given enough time. America is a great country, with wonderful, resilient people. Even in the worst areas of economic poverty, there are people who triumph over great odds to achieve the American Dream. Here in the south we are home to many such people, God bless ‘em.

  25. Diane H. Toney - February 27, 2021 2:10 pm

    Well said. In my memoir, IT WAS WHAT IT WAS, I share anecdotes, stories, and characterizations of the greatest decade, the 1950s. Growing up in a small Georgia town was the epitome of the good life. Patriotism was at an all -time high, the economy was thriving, and people were happy. Roses would not be as appreciated without the thorns, for sure.

  26. Kip Carter - February 28, 2021 12:42 am

    Yes the 1950’s were great unless you were Black.

  27. Cheryl Buchanan - March 2, 2021 4:29 am

    Thank you!


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