Gratitude from Growing Up in the Depression Years

While I was out in Idaho, Jesse Posey gave me a sketch that he had written about growing up there during the depression years. It was a very interesting piece about habits of gratitude coming out of a hard beginning.

Since this piece has been published in a magazine (Jesse couldn’t remember where), I’m not going to include the whole thing here. If I do find the reference I’ll add it.

Downward comparisons can be very useful for enhancing gratitude. That means thinking about how things could be worse, or were worse, or are worse for someone else. Jesse’s gratitude comes partly from thinking of the hobos who showed him that having a home and enough food to give some away was something to be grateful for. It also comes from remembering being cold and working hard. According to the poet, Robert Pollock, “Sorrows remembered sweeten present joy.” These experiences from more than 70 years ago have cast a very long gratitude shadow.

Jesse and his mother

Jesse and his mother during the Depression

We came to Idaho from Tennessee in 1935 when I was 6 years old with hope of finding a better life. … All that we brought to Idaho with us was what we could cram into the car. It must have been so hard for mother to have to leave so many treasured things behind. 5 of us made the move, my mother, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, and myself. Years later I asked my cousin if we camped out. He laughed and said, “No, we just drove and picknicked with a loaf of bread, bologna or cheese and crackers.”

We moved to Kimberly, Idaho that fall and into another one room house across from the railroad tracks. Being close to the tracks we had our share of hobo’s knocking on our door looking for a hand out or anything to eat. Though we had little I can remember that my mother always found something to share with them.
Our house was just a framed building with no insulation and the winters were really cold. I would walk along the tracks looking for coal that had fallen off of a coal car and sometimes a hobo would toss coal off.

Kimberly had a dance hall called “Shadowland” and several name bands played there. After a dance I would get up early the next morning and walk around the building and hunt for beer bottles which I could sell. Once in a while I would find some change or even a bill. I sold the Saturday Evening Post and the Grit magazines and mowed lawns with a really hard to push reel mower with a grass catcher. The money earned was turned over to my mother to help buy groceries.

We made our own entertainment by playing basketball, baseball or football when we could find a ball to use. … We also played what we called field hockey. We would use a Sego or Morning Milk can for the puck and what ever for the stick.

It was a hard life but I think it was a good time to be growing up. I’m sure it made us appreciate anything that we were able to obtain later in life.

Jesse and Anna Lou Posey today

Jesse and Anna Lou Posey today



Filed under Gratitude, Stories

7 responses to “Gratitude from Growing Up in the Depression Years

  1. Jeff Dustin

    I have a question that I’ve asked on PPND and at

    I think you might have something interesting to add to the discussion. The question is this: can you set an explicit goal for happiness but enact it only mentally.

    In other words, how necessary is it to go around smiling, exercising, practicing religion, etc. and how much can be gained by pursuing happiness by changing your thoughts?

    Another way to talk about this is to ask, if other people matter, can you be happy without other people?

    I asked this of Sonja Lyubomirsky and she said that although working the program (ie her book exercises) would help, you need other people to optimize happiness.

    This kind of leads into…what kind of other people exactly. There are those that bring you down more than up, so to speak. Just how much time do you need to spend with others to improve happiness?

    I’d love to hear your reply to these thoughts.

  2. Kathryn


    You’ve described an entire research program here, and all I have to give you are opinions based on my personal experience. So with that caveat…

    I think the point of Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “best fit” is that no singular exercise is necessary or (necessarily) sufficient for happiness. The things she suggests in her book —
    — have worked for enough people to indicate a likelihood that they can work for you or me. But no single exercise or approach works for everybody.

    So even with “Other people matter,” I’d say “For most people and in different degrees.” My husband likes to be with one or two people at a time, where I can get a zing out of being in large groups of people I know well. Some people have become long-time hermits. I imagine there is some sort of satisfaction in that type of life as well. So “Other people matter,” is a just useful heuristic.

    Jane Dutton talks about “high-quality connections” in work settings — that is, small exchanges over the course of a day that involve respectful engagement, trust, positive emotion and possibly task enablement. She also cautions that “corrosive connections’ can be quite destructive to both individuals and groups and should not be ignored. So clearly there’s a range of quality in human connections. It is important not to eat rotten food. Similarly, it can be important to stay away from people who consistently bring you down. But there are exceptions. I found one earlier this year —

    Here’s my view then: There are actions and heuristics with evidence of efficacy, but you have to make your own personal recipe through informed trial and error.

    Once again, just my opinion.

  3. Jeff

    By the way, I got a kick out of your Depression-era Gratitude piece. Downward comparisons make a difference for the better sometimes. All of the seniors I’ve spoken to tell tales of the Great Depression and say that they had enough to eat but no shoes, etc. They seem to be proud to have survived the ordeal.

    Thank you!

  4. Pingback: Reflections on Resilience « Positive Psychology Reflections

  5. If you want to see a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Detailed info, but I have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed parts. Thank you, anyway!

  6. MaryAnne Ashton

    I was so grateful to find this blog. I am writing my parents life story. They both graduated from Eden, Idaho high school in 1935. They talk about “Shadowland” a great deal and until I found your blog on depression times I had no idea what it was. I even contacted the Blaine County Historical Society and they didn’t know. THANK YOU. MaryAnne

  7. Kathryn

    Isn’t the Web wonderful! I’m so glad that Jesse’s article had a clue to the past for you.

    Your success searching for information reminds me of the argument that I had with my mother, who was convinced that her parents and grandparents all died at age 86. I knew her parents had — but I doubted that all her grandparents had. So I searched and found Jerome Idaho cemetery records that showed one grandmother lived to 90, one grandfather to 88. I still haven’t found the other two.

    Good luck with your search.

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