Great Depression imparted wisdom that applies today

Cora Wells, my maternal grandmother, had a phrase for it.

She was born in 1890 and lived through more crises than most of us would care to even think about going through.

Spanish-American War. World War I. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. World War II. Korea and Vietnam. But the big one for her was The Great Depression.

That one caught her attention not only because of what the nation went through, but also because her husband, Lawrence, died at the height it leaving her with: (a) no income; (b) no insurance; and (c) three school-age daughters.

And she wasn’t alone with her problems. Many others faced circumstances every bit as tough or tougher. Still, from the little she told me about it, I know she struggled and I’m sure she spent many nights lying awake wondering just how she was going to get through it all.

I’ve mentioned her before. She was a tough woman in the best sense of those words and the word “Ma’am” was never far from the tongues of any and all who spoke to her.

She could silence you with a stare, didn’t suffer fools gladly, spoke her mind as she saw fit, and had very definite ideas on the proper way to raise young boys and girls and how those same boys and girls should conduct themselves at all times. Ask me how I know.

Did I fear her while growing up?

Does a rocking horse have wooden ears?

You bet he does and you bet I did.

But that fear was mostly based on never wanting to lose her respect (OK, and never wanting her to fulfill her threats to “take a switch” to me if I ever stepped out of bounds).

She comes to mind just now because of all that’s happening with the economy.

Boeing is laying off thousands. As is Starbucks. As is Caterpillar. As is … (fill in the blank).

Banks have failed. Investment firms have gone under. The dollar isn’t what it used to be. Bankruptcies are rising and our leaders in Washington seem no surer of a solution than the rest of us. So help me, sometimes it seems as if they’re tossing darts at a wall to see what sticks.

I get that their “stimulus” bill is something that’s supposed to help but, if you ask me (and many others think so too), there sure seems to be a lot of dubious spending (pork?) tucked away in it.

Too, given that many of those who got us into this mess are still in office, I have a tough time believing that our elected brethren have all had a “come to Jesus” moment and will, henceforth, forever and always, be careful with our money.

P.J. O’Rourke may have nailed it when he said, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

I say “may have nailed it” because O’Rourke missed the fact that teenage boys are usually still under adult supervision.

But back to Cora Wells and one of her favorite phrases.

Whenever, as a young man, I was struggling financially and would mention it to her, she’d look at me and say, “Then I guess you’ll just have to make do.”

To her, “making do” meant hard choices. Getting by on what I had. Avoiding debt. Putting off buying until later. Saving more. Making sure that what I wanted was what I really needed.

Lately, whenever I find myself staring at the ceiling in the wee hours, I remind myself that this woman held it together in really tough times without a husband or even, at first, a job.

Her daughters didn’t go hungry. They all had clothes. They all stayed in school. She got them through.

Looking at where we are now, I don’t think we’ve yet seen the worst of this economic mess. It will probably take longer than we care to think about to fix and, for sure, it isn’t going to be pleasant to go through.

From the president on down, we might all have to learn how to “make do.”

And, that, I think, wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Not a bad thing at all.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to

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