Needy
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Bringing joy to the needy in Depression was fulfilling

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday December 26, 1998.

Early photo of the Block farm

NEDERLAND -- One thing I remember about growing up on a farm during the Great Depression - it was so painful to witness the destitution of others when our own farm was virtually "the horn of plenty." And the worst poverty of all was that in that age, we believed a person’s destitution was his own fault, even if he were in a wheelchair.

In the fall of 1931, our farm produced perhaps 800 bushels of Irish and sweet potatoes, for which there was no market at all, even at 25 cents a hundred pounds. We had to cover them up with sandy soil to preserve them through the winter. We fed sour milk and clabber to chickens and livestock because we had such a surplus of it.

Yet life for us was reduced to a barter economy. We could trade bottled milk, butter, eggs, chickens and produce to grocery and dry goods merchants for many of our necessities, but money was seldom exchanged. Sadly taxes and some other obligations could not be bartered for.

We knew well the extent of want for about 12 families who lived in our rent houses, all of whom were without work and many were hungry. I remember helping Dad deliver sacks of potatoes on our renters’ front porches.

That December, a neighbor lady, carrying an infant, came by our house to borrow some salt. She said she had cut up a turtle to make soup, but she had no salt with which to flavor it. Her husband was away, seeking employment.

Mama and I visited her home, where we found four other small children. The cupboard there was totally bare of all necessities, no flour or cornmeal, sugar or salt, beans or potatoes, no condiments - nothing. And in those days, there was no welfare or other organization, except churches, to help alleviate hunger.

Mama gave me two burlap sacks and told me to fill them with Irish and sweet potatoes. We made two trips back to that neighbor’s home, one with a wheelbarrow filled with potatoes, and on the next trip, we filled the wheelbarrow with paper sacks of flour, cornmeal, sugar, dried beans and peas, salt, lard, a ham and bottled milk for the children. Their hunger displaced any thoughts of toys.

We knew that our food would be only a temporary solution, and when Christmas arrived in a couple weeks, they would probably be hungry again.

When we left her house, I remember the neighbor crying and hugging my mother. I knew I only cried from being scared or hurt, or if I got a spanking, so I was confused by her crying and asked:

"Mama, why was she crying? We were only trying to help her, weren’t we?

"Yes, dear," Mama replied, "We were only trying to help her. Her crying was that of joy that she finally had food to put in her babies’ mouths. Perhaps you don’t understand, but sometimes people cry for joy."

I remember going to church soon and singing "Joy To The World." And I remember that lady crying for joy. And I knew how good it felt that we had helped provide her with a little bit of that joy.

W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author.  His website is http://block.dynip.com/wtblockjr. This database is very large (150 articles) and is intended as an area history source for students.

Copyright 1998-2016 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
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