Great Depression Memories Plus New Tales Of Hardship Ninety-eight-year-old Kert Dees tells more stories from the Great Depression through reporter Ben Trefny of member station KALW. Meanwhile, Debbi Hardy, a 55-year-old woman from Maine and her family are planning to move into their cellar to save money on heat this winter.
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Great Depression Memories Plus New Tales Of Hardship

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Great Depression Memories Plus New Tales Of Hardship

Great Depression Memories Plus New Tales Of Hardship

Great Depression Memories Plus New Tales Of Hardship

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Ninety-eight-year-old Kert Dees tells more stories from the Great Depression through reporter Ben Trefny of member station KALW. Meanwhile, Debbi Hardy, a 55-year-old woman from Maine and her family are planning to move into their cellar to save money on heat this winter.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. Today we continue our series on the effect economic uncertainty is having on average Americans. In a moment, we'll hear from one listener in Maine who posted her story on our blog, Soapbox, as well as a story about how the current crisis affects community colleges.

But first, we return to Kermit Kert Dees. He's 98 years old, and last week he talked about the great stock market crash of 1929.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. KERT DEES: I've never seen grown men wild-looking like they were. They were yelling and they were even crying.

HANSEN: In the late 1920s, Dees was living in the small town of Davidson, Oklahoma. He remembers the easy money days before the Great Depression and how his life changed during the years that followed.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. DEES: I had borrowed $500 from our first state bank, and the banker was a good friend of mine, and so he would have it so that you could pay it two or three years later. I mean, wait until you get making some money. Now let's move on to 1930, then, when I go back to him for another loan and he said, Kermit, I not only can't loan you any money anymore, but I'm going to have to ask you to start paying it back in monthly payments at 10 percent interest.

It took me three years to pay it off. I didn't know that really we were in a big Depression that was maybe going to last for a while. I knew we were in hard times, but I figured, well, next year we'll come out of the water. Only when Roosevelt came in and told us there's nothing to fear but fear itself...

(Soundbite of President Roosevelt speech)

President FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT (United States): That the only thing we have to fear is fear itself...

Mr. DEES: I'm going to remember that.

(Soundbite of President Roosevelt speech)

President ROOSEVELT: Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror...

Mr. DEES: I'm going to remember that.

(Soundbite of President Roosevelt speech)

President ROOSEVELT: Which paralyzes needed efforts.

Mr. DEES: And then people did start saying, follow him, follow him, follow him. Then he started his fireside chats.

(Soundbite of President Roosevelt fireside chat)

President ROOSEVELT: My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.

Mr. DEES: Oh, I wish our presidents would do that. Then Roosevelt came out with this thing of closing the banks temporarily and putting them back online. Now, to my utter astonishment, when the banks opened, a lot of my friends and people that I knew real well put substantial money into the bank. Where did they get it? From under the mattress, because they were scared. And like just like a school of fish, investors like a school of fish, they feel their neighbors. Well, he gave them a good feeling and it was like a school of fish, you know? You're feeling it. Hey, we're all going to go along with this, aren't we? Without words, the feeling. He cast that net out there. And it started coming out of the Depression, and that was it.

HANSEN: That's 98-year-old Kermit Kert Dees. He now resides at an assisted-living facility called Eleanor Roosevelt Circle in Davis, California. Dees told his story to Ben Trefny of member station KALW in San Francisco.

Joining us now is Debbi Hardy of Limerick, Maine. She was one of the many listeners who wrote on our blog about how the economy is affecting her. She joins us from MPBN in Portland, Maine. Welcome to the program, Debbi.

Ms. DEBBI HARDY: Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: Your blog post described some of the financial changes your family will have to go through in the coming months. Would you read just a little bit off the top of it, please?

Ms. HARDY: Certainly. (Reading) With the loss of my part-time newspaper job almost six months ago, my family, myself, my husband, my nine-year-old daughter will soon be living hand to mouth, literally. Eggs from our chickens, and our chickens themselves will make up much of our diet as winter bears down upon us.

HANSEN: What happened to your part-time newspaper job?

Ms. HARDY: Well, the - I worked at the Press Herald in Portland, and they've had a number of rounds of layoffs because of economic problems. So I was officially laid off on April 26.

HANSEN: What did you do there?

Ms. HARDY: I was a copy editor part time.

HANSEN: Part-time copy editor.

Ms. HARDY: Mm hm.

HANSEN: Are you getting unemployment?

Ms. HARDY: No. I got a severance package. So I've been getting a weekly paycheck since then and that ends in a couple of weeks.

HANSEN: How much income is that? What will you be losing?

Ms. HARDY: We'll be losing $401 a week, and so, you know, multiply times four, it's about 1,600 bucks.

HANSEN: What are you going to do when the severance pay stops coming?

Ms. HARDY: Well, that's a good question. I've given that a lot of thought over the summer. I've started marketing myself as a pet sitter, started looking for some music students, and I've thought about doing some substitute teaching. And what scares me is that all these other people aren't going to have money, so they can't like hire me with my services. And you know, with the cost of gasoline and the cost of maintaining vehicles and that sort of thing, I'd rather stick around home and find stuff to do there rather than go out and, you know, on a daily basis have to drive to Portland and back.

HANSEN: Did your husband - he works on your farm.

Ms. HARDY: My husband is a very hard worker. He's an electrical engineer by trade, and he does consulting work, and he also works a lot on our farm. And you know, I keep an eye out on the Web sites for jobs in Maine and email them to him when I see one what I think he'd be really good at. So - and he's applying. He's doing that.

HANSEN: So what are you going to have to give up in order to keep paying the bills?

Ms. HARDY: Well, winter is going to be pretty bad. We're planning - well, I'm planning, anyway, to clean out the cellar and have us all move down there so all we have to do is heat the cellar. And I've got the - we have two horses, and I've got them up for sale. Even if I can free lease them out that would help. At least I wouldn't have to feed them through the winter. Sometimes I sell some eggs to friends of mine. I hate to do it. I'd like to give them away, but you know, we've got to feed the chickens, too. The dogs are going to have to go without canned food. I mean, every little thing.

I'm trying to, you know, say, well, do we really need this? And I'm thinking, you know, walk to the grocery store every day and get whatever we need for supper because I don't want to put food in the refrigerator and have it just go bad or something because we don't get to it. Just, you know, stuff like that. Being real organized about, you know, what clothes are we going to wear this week so I can only, you know, only do one wash a week and keep the electrical bills down, you know. That's just the way it's going to have to be.

HANSEN: Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

Ms. HARDY: I'm 55.

HANSEN: And how old is your husband?

Ms. HARDY: He's 58.

HANSEN: Could you ever have expected to be making these kinds of job and lifestyle changes at this point in your lives?

Ms. HARDY: Well, you know, we're not kind of conventional people, and I'm more of the kind of person that when times get hard, I try to downsize and make our lifestyle fit our income rather than having a certain lifestyle and having our income support it. So I've just done a lot of things in my life, and I'm ready to meet the challenge. I've been in a lot of places and done a lot of different jobs, and I enjoy it, and I enjoy the challenge.

HANSEN: Debbi Hardy lives in Limerick, Maine, and she wrote on our blog to tell us her story. Debbi, thanks so much.

Ms. HARDY: You're very welcome.

HANSEN: We want to know how the economy is affecting your life. Write to us at npr.org/soapbox.

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