Our Depression Home In The Cemetery
Author: Bruce Cook
From the place where I work I can go into the copy machine room and look out the window and see the little house at the top of the cemetery where we moved to and called home when I was almost five. The house had only one room, and was the size of a single car garage. On the back part of the house there had been built about a four foot extension as an addition. This was to be Mom's kitchen. The house sat up on locust posts, with the back at ground level and the front about three or four feet high. There were steps up to a small open wooden porch that was just big enough to let you go in the door. The only windows in the house were a small window on the side and a smaller one in the back.
The only way to get to our house was to travel from pleasant avenue all the way uphill through the cemetery to the top. The house had no electricity, gas, water or furnace of any kind nor was it finished inside.
It's strange how I can remember so much about it after seventy-two years have gone by. It was our first home that we had to ourselves after moving from my grandparent's unfinished attic where we had to live after my parents had lost everything during the great depression. We had no car or truck and everything had to be carried, our groceries, kerosene to cook with, oil for our lamps and any anything else that we might need.
Dad was able to work some for the WPA program and would receive flour as pay and one time a pair of shoes. Later on Dad was able to get work where my Grandfather was working at an oil can factory. I am now looking out the window from this same factory to jog my memory to write this article. From where we were on the hill you could look down on the town and see the factory where Dad went to work. This meant that Dad would be able to walk to work.
Dad cleaned out a spring for us to get our drinking, cooking and wash water. The spring was also used as our refrigerator where we could put butter and other food in the cool water in a container to keep it from melting or spoiling.
As I look back at the things my Mother had to do, and what she had to do it with, I think about how tough it was for her. She had to carry dishwater, wash or drinking water from the spring when Dad wasn't available. She also had to wash clothes on a wash board in a tub, iron clothes with an old solid flat iron that had to be heated on the kerosene stove, not to mention cooking on it which required us to carry the oil a gallon at a time up the hill to the house. Because we used kerosene lamps the globes had to be kept clean. The bed was a couch that had to be opened and folded up each day and night where they slept with my younger brother between them. I slept in an iron baby bed across the room. But regardless of all this we were happy to be a family living together again in our own home.
My brother and I had a lot of territory to use as a playground, including the top of the cemetery, but never were allowed to bother any graves or flowers on them. The caretakers of the cemetery had a boy and girl that we often met and played with in and around the cemetery. In the summertime we could pick berries and wild strawberries to eat along the road at the top. There were also a lot of crabapple trees to eat from but they were in a lot of thorns. Like everyone else, we had nothing but at our age my brother and I didn't really think much about it. It was just accepted as our way of life. He and I were happy there and we used to play a lot with a couple of little cars that Santa had given us for Christmas, that were purchased by our Aunt. On the hill above the back of our house under some big trees, we would make dirt roads for them and sometimes Mom and Dad would come up and Dad would help us cut roads in the bank. There were also fields of broom sage to run and play in, as well as a wooded area.
Dad had been raised in a large family in the country several miles from town, and had lost his mother when he was very young. Their father was away working a lot so the older children helped to raise the younger ones. Dad told me that there were thirteen boys and girls, some of them dying very young, so Dad knew a lot about how to live and survive. He gathered material from somewhere and built a chicken coop and saved enough money to send away and buy some baby chickens or peeps as we called them. After a while we had plenty of eggs to eat and some to sell. We also had chicken to eat once in a while, especially when we had company or relatives who would stop while traveling through but this didn't happen very often. We had a rooster that would always chase my brother. One day Dad had me crawl under the house for eggs that the chickens had been laying there. I found a lot of them and carried them out and gave them to him. Dad was also good at raising gardens in the summertime for food to eat. Besides this, he was a very good hunter and at times he would take me rabbit hunting with him and he was always able to shoot rabbits. I can't remember him missing very many shots. He was good at spotting them and found a lot of them setting and could kill them without damaging the body and meat.
After we had lived there for a while the people we were renting from told Dad that if he would run a line through the woods to their house we could have electricity for a small amount added to the rent. Dad went to work and cut a path through the woods and set poles to put an electric wire on. It was probably about a hundred yards or better. What a thrill it was to have an electric light and later to be able to play a small radio. In the fall Dad had a load of coal dumped on the turn of the cemetery road at the bottom of our path leading up to the house. He carried all of it up, a gunny sack full at a time on his back.
My grandparents lived at the bottom of the hill on pleasant avenue and we were able to visit them and sit on the front porch quite often, something that people did in those days. Mom's aunt and uncle lived below us just a short way off the cemetery road as you first come up into the cemetery from Pleasant Avenue. We would visit with them once in a while. One thing I remember clearly was my Great Grandmother who lived in the hollow at the foot of rabbit hill and would once in a while walk up to spend the day with Mom. As a young girl she would take Mom to church with her. I was told that she was a descendent of Alexander Campbell from Bethany. Later in the day my Great Grandfather would walk up, spend some time and walk home with her. God blessed me by allowing me to be able to see my mothers side of the family, I wasn't as fortunate on my fathers side.
I started to school from this home and the school was located at the foot of the hill just three blocks north of Grandma's house on Pleasant Ave. and Rabbit Hill Road. The first day of school I went down the hill, met my Uncle who was in the fifth grade and he took me to Washington School and put me in the right line to enter the school and first grade. Every day for dinner I would walk up to the top of the hill to go home to eat, and return to school. In the winter time when a deep snow would come, Dad would shuffle his feet going down the hill on his way to work to make me a path to walk in to reach the avenue and on to school. Once in a while a kid would want to walk home with me, but after a trip or two they weren't to excited about doing it again.
I remember as a child walking a short distance down the road to the first turn where I could sit under a huge tree and look down over the cemetery. I would watch for Dad to come home from work and want to see if he had any of his lunch left. He usually did, I think he saved some on purpose just for me.
One night we had a severe storm with a lot of wind, we thought that our house was going to upset off the posts, causing us to have some very anxious moments. The next day Dad cut some long locust poles and put three or four on each side of the house to brace it.
There was another time that we were having a hard time getting to sleep because of owls that were staying in the large trees on the hill just above our house. One night Dad took the shotgun and kept coming back to the window for Mom to give him another shell. I don't know how many he shot, but the noise stopped. He also had to shoot a weasel that was trying to get our chickens.
After we had lived there for a while my mothers sister was able to get Mom hired on as a part time worker at the Pillsbury Bag Plant in town. Most of the time, when she was working, she would have to come home through the cemetery after dark. Someone, whom she thought was a co-worker, would hide in the cemetery to scare her when she came home. One night Dad went early and hid behind a tombstone. When it started Dad was there to challenge them and it stopped.
With Dad getting work and Mom getting part time work we were able to rent a four room two story house at the rear of 2248 Charles St. It was a half block from Dad's work, three or four blocks for Mom and four blocks from my school. I was happy that I was able to remain in Washington School. My brother was able to attend kindergarten across the street in the fire house. Every time my brother got a break to go to the bathroom located down stairs, he would come on home and we would have to take him back. He later started to attend Washington School from this home. We had a bathroom, water, electricity, gas and a makeshift coal stove in the basement for heating the house.
This was to begin another new chapter in the life of my brother and I, with lots of playmates in the neighborhood playing on sidewalks, in alleys and a large Ice Plant cinder parking lot.
As I am writing this article there are many memories flooding my mind about this time in our lives. There are many of them that I haven't mentioned; I will always remember that little one room house at the top of the cemetery where we once again were able to become a family living by ourselves, with tough times but many happy memories from the good old days.
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