Friday, December 31, 2010

Missing the Important Things During the Great Depression

It surely was a time of longing, and a time of waiting, and a time of want. Then again, if the heart knows what the heart wants, the heart surely cannot know what it has never had, nor ever known of. Some children growing up during the Great Depression may have wanted for nothing because they never had anything in the first place. In the end, the only thing they knew they were lacking was the close, loving comfort of a parent who'd been sent away in pursuit of work.

As the door closes on this year, and a new year dawns, I’d like to finish off my 2010 posts with a simple remembrance of a little girl, in a tiny Colorado town in the 1930s. Some seventy years after the fact, she would recall laying at the foot of the bed in an upstairs bedroom, watching through the window, down a darkened street, waiting for a car to turn down the street because she knew it would be her beloved daddy, home from his job as a foreman in a faraway CCC camp. Their town was small and very little traffic moved through the streets so she could always be certain it was daddy when the car made that final turn down their street – it couldn’t be anyone else, but her daddy.

While he was away at camp, her daddy wrote a series of stories about The Whoppenhollar kids, who were modeled and named after his very own five children: Billy, Frank, the twins Jean and John and little Glen. He’d mail those stories home from CCC camps in places like Norwood, Delta, Gardner and San Isabel, Colorado.

One lucky Thanksgiving, her daddy was assigned to the CCC camp just a few miles down the road and the family was invited to attend the holiday dinner in camp. She would always remember the bounty that was spread across that camp table and recall that she’d never seen so much food in her young life. She would also remember visiting daddy in distant camps and she would recall the kindness of the camp officers. Thirty years later it would be remembered that through it all, daddy always managed to be home for the holidays.

It isn’t a stretch to say that the creation of the CCC in 1933 saved the Rutherford family. Bill Rutherford landed a job as a camp foreman during that first year and he worked for the CCC and for FERA until 1942. His work far from home meant food on the table, even if it did come at the expense of time spent close to his wife and children.

Now, as the calendar turns over to 2011, I look back with sadness at the fact that three of the five Whoppenhollar kids – John, Jean and Frank - have traveled on ahead, gone from this life and now joined with their mamma and daddy.

Sure, the heart knows what the heart wants and a small child always knows what they want most of all, which is for their parents to be close at hand.

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Buffalo Crossing Camp, Eastern Arizona

Buffalo Crossing Camp, Eastern Arizona