Lillian Howell lived through the 1929 stock market collapse, which happened 79 years ago this week. Howell, who was 10 at the time, recalls the desperate move her family made to survive after her father was laid off.
Howell's father, Charlie Hannabass, worked at the Kroger grocery in downtown Cincinnati. When the Great Depression cost him his job, "we didn't know what we were going to do," Howell said.
So the family made a tough decision: to pull up stakes and move to Virginia, where they had relatives who, they hoped, could help.
To pay for the move, they sold their few household possessions — everything except an ivory dresser set that Howell says was her mother's prized possession. The family used the money from the sale to buy a Ford Model T, and then set out for Bedford County, Va.
Many roads back then were unpaved and unreliable — and filling stations and motels could be hard to come by. The Howells ran into other problems, too.
"Somewhere along the way, we were out of money," Howell said.
The family found a grocery store that also sold gas for 10 cents a gallon. It was then, Howell said, that her father remembered the dresser set.
"There's nothing to do but to pawn it," she recalled her father saying. "We've got to have the money; we've got to have food; we've got to have gas."
"My mother," Howell said, "she reluctantly gave up her prize."
When the family stopped to rest on the last night of the trip, they slept on the road.
"It was cold, and the wildcats were just howling," Howell said.
She recalled being frightened, but her father told them all not to worry.
"As long as I keep this fire going, they're going to stay on that side of the river," he said. "We're going to stay on this side of the river."
The next day, the family arrived at the home of Howell's aunt.
"We were so welcome," Howell said. "It felt so good to have somebody that cared about you, that seemed to want you, who loved you."
And her hosts shared what they had — including, Howell recalled, a warm soft bed. It was a welcome change to the days and nights spent on the road.
"That bed felt so good," she said, "that I just felt wonderfully warm and secure."
Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.