Dealing with The Depression.

Having been born in the midst of The Depression, I really did not know what was going on. I thought everyone lived the same way. Later on I realized that my parents and grandparents had made a lot of adjustments in order to deal with The Great Depression.

The Depression was the reason Bernie & Edee lived with my grandparents Henry & Mary Paul. Henry had lost his job as salesman for the Hood Rubber Co., where he sold rubber boots and rainware to retail shoe stores. Galoshes became a luxury item to people who were stuffing cardboard into the bottoms of their worn out shoes because they could not afford to purchase new ones. He went from top salesman with a good commission income to no income and house payments on the home they had built in 1919.

Henry, along with one or two other men, opened a small store on the ground level of the new apartment building on Maple Road. It was sort of a drug store, but not really a drug store because they had no one qualified to fill prescriptions. They only sold patent medicine, along with notions, stationary, etc. There was a small soda fountain. Shortly after they opened their Linthicum Store, Dr.Walter Albrecht, a licensed Pharmacist, opened Albrecht’s Pharmacy nearby.

Henry & Bernie got a job installing street name signs in northern Anne Arundel County. These were rectangular signs made of steel with the street name done in white letters against a dark blue porcelain enamel background. They went around the neighborhoods with their wooden trailer attached to the back of their car. On the trailer were long, round galvanized steel poles that the signs would be attached to. They had a hand-operated post-hole digging tool to set the poles into the ground at street corners. While they were doing this work, they somehow managed to get two signs made for them by the company that was producing the porcelain enamel signs for the County. One read “H. J. PauL, the other “Paul’s Puppets”. For years these were attached to the RFD mail box hanging from a branch on a Sycamore tree in front of 414 Hawthorne. Rd.

At that time Postmasters were political appointees. Henry, being a Democrat, got himself appointed Postmaster of Linthicum Heights by the Democratic Party that was then in control, with Franklin Roosevelt as President. What had been Henry’s Linthicum Store was converted into Linthicum’s first post office. Henry had to buy the post office Boxes that were rented to customers in the new post office with his own money. He got to keep at least part of the monthly rental fees, if not all of it. 1st class post offices were the big ones like Baltimore City’s. Linthicum’s was a 4th class office., which was about as small as they got. Class ratings were based on stamp sales. The more stamps sold, the higher the rating. Henry used his salesmanship to sell as many stamps as he could. He even sold and delivered them to people who did not live in Linthicum. He sold them to Dr. Dorsey, our dentist, who lived and had his office in Baltimore City.

Because the puppet show business was not enough to support our family, Bernie some how got a job in the Linthicum Post Office. Wonder how he pulled that off? It was not a job that he enjoyed, but he made the best of it until after WWII when they began to do the WBAL TV shows.

Henry had grown up on a farm in Tennessee and he brought his farming skills to Maryland with him. When Henry and Mary bought the property on Hawthorne Rd. for their new house, they also bought the adjoining 100’ wide lot. A badminton court was set up facing the road, but the rest of this lot was used as a garden. I’m not sure when they first began growing vegetables there, because that was what the lot was used for as far back as I can remember. The garden had rows and rows of vegetables lined up like a military parade. For example, the tomatoes were planted exactly 36” apart, not 35” or 37”. Their wooden support poles were driven into the ground with a level held on each side. The top of the pole touched a string stretched level from poles at each end of the row. Each newly planted tomato plant received exactly 1/2 pint of water, measured in a glass milk bottle. There were apple, cherry, and damson trees along with strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and a grape arbor, which ended up in pies and jams. The crops from this mini-farm supplied us with fresh produce during the summer and shelves of canned goods in the basement to feed us during the winter. There was a ‘tool house’ attached to the side of the garage where all tools used outside were kept. The handles of these tools were painted red so they could be seen if left in the garden, as every tool had to be cleaned and returned to the tool house before work ended for the night. Then there was the livestock: Rhode Island Red chickens which supplied us with fresh eggs and chicken dinners. Originally there was one long chicken house attached to the rear of the garage, with the fenced-in chicken yard behind that. Later there were two self-standing chicken houses known as ‘the little chicken house’ and ‘the big chicken house’. Yes, each structure had a name, and don’t dare call the tool house, the shed. The little chicken house was where baby chickens that arrived in a cardboard box with air holes in the sides, on the B&A train at Linthicum station each spring, lived. At that time last year’s baby chickens were fully grown and laying eggs in their home in the big chicken house. The mature chicken’s days were numbered as they were soon to become a Sunday dinner. By default Mary got to hold them by their feet, place their head on the tree stump next to the chicken yard, and chop their neck off with a hatchet. She got this job, because no one else would do it; and we had to eat. It was not until after I got married that I learned that not all eggs had brown shells. What are those strange things with white shells on the shelves in the supermarket?

At some point Edee had a job in Brager Eisenburgs, one of the Baltimore Department Stores, teaching women customers how to make lampshades. Actually it was how to make a new covering for their existing metal shade frame, rather than buying an expensive new shade. She also helped Miss Shoemaker, a dressmaker who lived up the road, to sew dresses for ladies who could still afford to have their clothing custom made.

These were some of the ways that our family dealt with the Great Depression and then World War II, which followed. Just as I thought all chicken eggs had brown shells, I thought all families raised their own produce. Linthicum was a small world in those days.

~ Larry Paul