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Depression VS The Great Depression— With Apologies to Eleanor Roosevelt

Here we are, Whateverday, the 76th day of April at about 45 o’clock— also known as the 666th day of 2020.

This Baby Boomer feels like she’s been dumped in the 1970 release of Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?” — minus that whole “walking down the street one day”… “being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock” thing.

Oh, what fresh hell is this?

There’s an eerie atmosphere that permeates the air with a heaviness that is undeniable. Even though we’re all in this together, there’s a tangible loneliness that comes with necessary social distancing and self-quarantining.

I’ve spit-shined every inch of the house, mowed the lawn (again), organized the closets, cleaned the pantry, baked, written, read, exercised, gardened, cooked, refinished furniture, decorated Easter eggs, caught up with friends, and —ok, full reveal— have done my share of online ordering. And now… ???

The arrival of Coronavirus/COVID-19 snuck in like a thief in the night and, in a matter of mere weeks, changed our lives. While I usually find a way to make light of things, I would be remiss not to admit that this is one of the most painful times I’ve ever lived through; not necessarily in the way it has affected me personally, but in the way it has ravaged the lives of others.

“Somebody told us Wall Street fell…”

“…But we were so poor that we couldn’t tell.” Those lyrics rolled off the tongues of the country group Alabama (1988) and, as most of us Baby Boomers sang along, we never considered we might face a similar “depression” in a short couple of decades. Coronavirus has knocked many to their knees, financially.

Folks who had bright futures to look forward to, have now lost huge chunks of their portfolios. For some, the retirement years that were right around the corner may now be much farther away, if they are experienced at all. Livelihoods are threatened, layoffs abound and many live in daily fear of losing their homes.

Mental strain is tugging at the sanity of every individual who has been forced into social distancing. We are being encouraged to set aside some of our freedoms for the sake of “straightening the curve.” Social gatherings are now restricted to smaller numbers.

Restaurants are closed except for take-out and church services are no longer held in the usual manner— a particular sore spot for the devout.

This was the first Easter that held none of the usual religious or family gatherings. And it was our first Easter to be without our family. (And yes. I cried.)

We are now trudging through uncharted territory and that's something most Baby Boomers simply can’t grasp.

Even though I’m a doer, there are times when I, too, feel bored and lonely as I long for my previous normal routine. It’s at these times that I miss my maternal grandmother most. For as far back as I can remember, Grandma B kept the Depression Era mentality of living simply, growing your own food and helping those who can’t help themselves. Both of my grandmothers could sew, bake, cook, garden— managing to do it all without complaining. They had lived through the worst of times, survived, and left a legacy of “wisdom pearls” for those of us who can use it to help us get through times like this.

In a recent conversation with my aunt, she reminded me that Grandma B would say, in her native German tongue, “You can’t stand in the middle of a railroad with a train headed straight toward you and expect God to save you because you are a believer. He gave you a brain and common sense: use it to get off the track.”

So when we do venture out, we wear masks, wash our hands, maintain out social distance and try to comply with what the current recommendations are. While non-compliance in Texas is not punishable by a fine in most cases, we are trying to use enough common sense practices to stay healthy, for ourselves and others.

This is a real test of strength unlike anything any of us have witnessed—on this we can all agree. Now is a good time to humbly ask for Divine Intervention. I promise you, God will show up, whether you’re in a congregation-filled church or simply praying from a quiet spot in your little corner of the world.

Comfort food, in a retro kind of way

For some unknown reason, I’ve always been fascinated with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-45). So, it comes as no surprise that I had to check out what she cooked during the lean years. She was a notoriously bad cook. It’s been said that Ernest Hemingway would eat three sandwiches at the airport before dining at the Roosevelt White House table during The Great Depression.

Part of Mrs. Roosevelt’s problem was lack of cooking skills. The other issue is one of integrity: she refused to dine on lavish meals when the rest of America was starving or, at the very least, struggling.

She truly lived up to her belief that “It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” Or so goes one theory...

Having been given authority to run the White House while President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruled the nation, Eleanor enlisted the help of an under-qualified housekeeper, Henrietta Nesbitt, to oversee the meals. With no real interest in good food, Eleanor allowed the equally-unskilled Henrietta to serve things like broiled kidneys on toast, and creamed fish.

The plain-Jane First Lady became known for her “seven and a half cent menus,” which would include two courses with decent nutritional value for under ten cents per serving. (Think deviled eggs with tomato sauce, mashed potatoes and coffee; maybe served with a slice of bread...)

Some say these disgusting meals were served to Franklin in retaliation for his many infidelities, not the least of which was Lucy Mercer, Eleanor's secretary.

As I was researching, I stumbled across one of her “recipes” in which Eleanor boiled spaghetti and carrots in the same pot in order to save on cooking fuel. I tried it one night when my grocery supply was running low. Fortunately, I had a little Parmesan cheese, butter and milk on hand to make it edible, but without it, I can certainly see Ernest Hemingway’s point.

I decided to indulge in a few more recipes that would require just a few basic ingredients and afford me the opportunity to move away from the “sophisticated palates” we have all grown so accustomed to. I filled the house with the aromas of blueberry muffins, banana nut bread, old-fashioned rice pudding, apple strudel, King Arthur Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies, cooked cabbage with bacon, skillet cornbread , and hearty navy bean soup. I even mastered homemade toaster pastries!

For The Pioneer Woman's Homemade Pop Tart recipe, click here.

In order to not pack on too many quarantine pounds, I froze most of the baked goods. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t miss dining in restaurants (a gal’s gotta get her occasional taco fix!), but I will say that we have been eating much healthier. I also cannot argue that the way I’ve been cooking has been much less expensive.

King Arthur Flour's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies, above

I haven’t resorted to Eleanor Roosevelt’s Depression Era bread and butter sandwiches, sweetbreads (served six times per week), prunes, or pineapples rolled in peppermint, but I have gone back to the basics. And I plan to stick with it long after the time when I can again freely roam the aisles of my favorite grocery stores.

For recipe to Taste of Home's Hearty Navy Bean Soup, click here.

A bit more about that other "Depression"

Boredom, anxiety, fear, loneliness, grief, anger, irritability, anger, frustration… The list of reasons to “go off the mental rails” seemingly goes on forever, spurred by a generous helping of media hype, ever-changing “facts,” mounting national and personal debt— with no real end in sight.

Experts in the field of psychology recommend the usual: breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, etc. All work well. In addition, I have adopted simple, practical ways of coping that have served to keep me relatively sane (see list below).

If all else fails, play Monopoly. Still popular today, the game was developed in the 1930s for the purpose of offering folks the illusion that they could become wealthy, even if it was only through the fictional distraction of a board game.

Or read a good book. It was interesting to learn that one of my favorite childhood books, "Three Little Pigs," was symbolic of The Great Depression. The three little pigs represented average Americans who eventually overcame the hard times brought about by the wolf (The Depression) knocking at their door. The Disney short film was released on May 27, 1933.

There is no right or wrong way to make it out of this Covid-19 pit. You do you. As for me, there are days when I put on really nice clothes and make-up and then there are days when I throw on yoga pants, a pullover, stuff my hair in a banana clip and wear little or no make-up. But either way, I’m very careful to stay engaged with life.

And I try to keep in mind that, unless I’m fighting for each breath on a respirator, I’ll be ok.

There is always tomorrow.

Eleanor, Grandma and me

Mrs. Roosevelt made it through The Great Depression with a great deal of respect for the plight of her fellow Americans. Her legendary inability to cook paled by comparison to the fact that she had her heart “in the right place” when it came to recognizing those who were starving.

For the rest of my Grandma's life, she continued the frugal lifestyle she adopted out of necessity during the lean years. I remember her making extra bread in case the hobos who jumped the four o’clock train would make their way to her door, asking for food.

Coronavirus can bring out either the best or the worst in each of us. During the 30s, Chicago gangster Al Capone opened a soup kitchen in order to offer what would be to some their only meal of the day. (Thankfully, Eleanor was not his cook.)

There is a lot to be learned from the women and men who survived the desperate 1930s. We have to hold on the belief that our current situation, too, is bad—but temporary. It's how we handle it that will be remembered.

Americans are a resourceful lot. During one of the bleakest points of The Great Depression, folks resorted to selling apples to avoid the shame of panhandling. In New York City, there is said to have been 6,000 apples sellers.

We can give in to the understandable depression that can easily come from these times, or we can set good examples, stay busy, keep the faith and wait for brighter days. The sun will shine again, and so will we.

Bloom as much as you can under the circumstances.



My thoughts on coping:

1) Limit your news intake and social media time. It’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole of press conferences, latest statistics, death reports, medical horror stories and Wall Street numbers. Don’t. Just don’t go there. Avoid the temptation at all cost. Instead, turn on The Andy Griffith Show. Barney is still neurotic; Otis is still drunk, and Floyd now has the only barber shop open in America.

2) Lower your expectations. Yes, lower your expectations. Take some small comfort in the fact that we are all in this together and it pretty much sucks for everyone. While these are not going to go down in your history as the best days of your life, they are nevertheless days of your life. Need to see your grandkids? That might not happen as soon as you’d like. Wanna hear your favorite singer/band/group in concert? Not gonna happen. Long to hit the local Cheers for a brewsky with your friends? Nope, not today. Deal with it. If you need to have a good cry, then cry. If you feel sad, then be sad, but don’t forget to be grateful for all the good things. Dig deep to find them. If you feel angry, acknowledge it but…

3) …Don’t take your anger out on others. I’ve seen so many nasty, unnecessarily rude remarks on social media that could have just as easily gone unsaid. (Re-read Suggestion #1) Just. Be. Kind.

4) Do whatever it takes to get you through the day, independent of what others think. If you feel like wearing pajamas all day, do it; but then make yourself get up the next day and get dressed. You’ll feel better.

5) Never underestimate the power of a country drive.

6) Distance yourself from button-pushers. Now is not the time to deal with those who make a hobby of pushing every button you have in order to gain your reaction. It never ends well for you. Spend time, instead, with friends who bring out the best in you. The button-pushers are survivors; they’ll find someone else who’s willing to take their bait. Don’t let that person be you. Remember Eleanor’s quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

7) Nurture healthy relationships. Catch up with old friends. Keep an eye on your family’s well-being. Pet your pet.

8) Help others. Indulge in RAKs (random acts of kindness) as often as possible.

9) Embrace solitude. Get to know yourself well enough to work on the parts that could use a tune-up and learn to truly appreciate the good you may come to recognize.

10) Make your bed.

11) "Get off the tracks."

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Wendy Byle
Wendy Byle
Apr 25, 2020

Thank you, Connie, for your many words of wisdom.


Connie H Strong
Connie H Strong
Apr 22, 2020

Thank you, Sharen! I really appreciate your kind words. And thank you for following my blog! Stay well.


Thank you for writing such a heart touching piece. These are strange yet sometimes inspiring times, we just have to keep our hearts and minds open to the possibilities in each moment. Stay health and keep writing, it’s a beautiful gift you have my friend.

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