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Hard Times: Christmas 1934, by Erwin A. Thompson

I've been listening to the song Stephen Foster's 1854 song "Hard Times Come Again No More." You'll see the lyrics below. Then, this evening, my father sent me this story to post about the hard times of Christmas 1934. May they come again no more. --Janet


Hard Times: Christmas, 1934
by Erwin A. Thompson

My sister Alice went to Alton High for her last two years of high school because of the unstable condition of the home at Rushville, Illinois.The year was 1934.

Our mother had been killed by a car in 1929. The bank was foreclosing the mortgage on "Gladacres" and my father J. Arthur Thompson, had some legal strings he was trying to untangle to delay the foreclosure and get a government loan on the place.

Alice got awfully homesick. She had never been away from home for any length of time before, and things were different here with the Aunties. New rules, a different set of friends, all this didn't help. The Aunties agreed that she and I could go up to Rushville for the Christmas season.

We went up in the Model "A" 1929 Ford truck (no heater). The weather was cold, and there were ridges of snow on the hard road where it had been packed down and never thawed off. We had a blowout just before we got to Jerseyville. I stopped at the Farm Supply (Farm Bureau) and called home. They said it was all right to buy a new tire there and charge it, which we did.

Dad, Ralph, Willard, and Eleanor had moved out of the house into another building that was on the property. Someway Dad thought the ground this building was on was not included in the mortgage. This building had once been a house.

Dad had moved it in when the factory was going good and used it for a packing shed. It wasn't sitting on much as I remember. Probably the way the house movers had set it down on wood cribbing. The wind howled through under the floors and up through the floors. Also through the walls. The weather got down below zero and the wind got nasty. We chinked the more obvious cracks with rags.

Ralph was buying the groceries out of his profits from the welding shop he had started in town when the Gladacres business folded up. This wasn't too profitable either, as he borrowed some money from me to pay his electric bill so he could get the ten percent discount for paying on time.

Dad had contracted to buy the old three story building back of Ralph's shop that used to be the "Broom Works". I don't know what he used for money, but he was in the process of getting possession of it. They set up living quarters there by putting up temporary partitions (which remained temporary until the tornado leveled it in 1948). The bad part about it was that we couldn't really concentrate our energy on either place. It seemed almost certain that Gladacres would be lost but Dad wanted someone to stay there to retain legal possession.

Ralph and I stayed. The bed was upstairs and the effects of a rather puny fire downstairs didn't help up there by much. We held a conference and decided it would be wiser if we didn't take our clothes off. We slept cold and uncomfortable. The next morning I realized I hadn't even taken my glasses off.

Dad was short of money, but I didn't realize how short until later. 1934 had been a dry year and the corn crop in general had been poor. Two years before corn had been ten to fifteen cents a bushel. Now it was over a dollar, because of the short supply. Gladacres was about 12 acres in all, and there was one field that raised fair corn. Dad sold a bushel of corn for about a dollar and a quarter. Out of this he bought our Christmas presents. I got a pair of pliers.

In later years of course Dad lost the Gladacres property. Losing it was a big blow. He had put so much thought and work in planning and building it. Just one small (relative to the national scene) example of the tragedy of the Depression.

The tornado of 1938 blew the broom works building out into the street. There was no hope of repair.

Dad bought the property at 198 E. Clinton (also damaged) and used the material from the broom works to repair and enlarge it.

I couldn't call our Christmas of 1934 a "Merry Christmas, but there was a lot of courage, loyalty, and the sharing of the very little that we had.

All these things made it a Christmas I will always remember.


Stephen Foster's original lyrics for "Hard Times"/strong>

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times come again no more.


Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.


There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.


Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.


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5 Responses »

  1. Erwin:

    The hardships and suffering you describe beautifully punctuate the need for gratitude—a feeling in short supply in these days of mindless entitlement.

    Your family persevered, and that is the lesson for us all.

    Be well,


  2. The struggle and sacrifice, and the eventual manner in which your generation overcame adversity, truly makes you the "greatest generation". Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dear Eden and Anne,

    Yes, perseverance...struggle...sacrifice...and, from that gratitude. These are the lessons from our forebears stories that we can witness in the present and take into the future.

    Thanks for your insightful comments.


  4. Janet and Erwin,
    Stephen Foster's song Hard Times and Erwin's piece Hard Times Christmas 1934 compliment each other in a deeply moving way. Erwin, because I had the pleasure of meeting you, I hear your voice as I read your words and imagine I am sitting in your living room with the photo album on my lap. Thinking of how your family and my family endured those Hard Timbes is sobering. The bitterness of the cold, the ruts on the road, the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls all echo the pain in my heart hearing about the struggle and hardships suffered during those hard times and the sadness I feel because so many people all over the world are still bearing the heavy burden of cold hard times.

    I also hear the keeness of mind, creativity, resourcefulness, warmth of family and the spirit of hope that carried you through those hard times. It lifts my spirit to know that you made it through, perservered and lived to tell your wonderul stories.

    As have you Janet, thank you so much for your art, wriiting, CD's, performances and web site that provides a forum for the stories and memories we all share through you.
    With love and appreciation, Janet Stringer Berzins

  5. Dear Janet (one of the "other Janet's" who belong to the "Janet Club"--

    Thanks for your extensive comment that registers your appreciation of Pop, his story, hard times themselves, and my work. This is the sweetness that knowing hard times brings.

    I'm glad you had a chance to visit both Pop and myself at our homes. It's true. After being in Pop's presence and hearing his gravelly voice, one always hears it in his writing. I so love his voice on "Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and music."

    Good to have met you and to continue being in touch.

    Janet Riehl

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