One of the joys of my life is to have coffee in the mornings with my mother-in-law Hazel (Welch) Cole. She was born a couple of miles from our farm and moved here in 1939 after the family who owned it lost it due to the Great Depression. I never tire of her stories of growing up here and who minds if she repeats a few of them on occasion?
Her mother died the following year from the effects of an accident while chopping wood. A piece flew and hit her in the head, apparently causing internal hemorrhaging. Today, it would have been easily diagnosed but medical help was minimal for farm families in those days. So her father was left with five children and somehow managed to survive. Hazel and a brother, Lloyd Welch, are the only two still living.
No photographs exist of her mother with her children so I have to imagine how one would look. I suspect that, had one been taken, it would resemble the print below of a Tennessee farm family taken in March, 1936 near the Natchez Trace. It is one of 175,000 commissioned by the Farm Services Administration that documented the lives of Americans during the worst years of the Depression. They remind us that no matter how hard we may think times are, they have been worse.
Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of photographs of farm families taken in front of decrepit structures like the one depicted. As with this photo, facial expressions represent a wide range of human emotions, suspicion, defiance, embarrassment, uncertainty, and the joy of new life. Humans are an amazing and resilient species.
We grew up listeneing to stories of those who lived through those years and then were taken straight into the nightmare of World War Two. Now those folks are disappearing. I can only hope their stories don’t.