Great Grandfather, Great Grandmother, Great Depression,

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

As I detailed in the story How Grandmother Won Granddad in a Beauty Contest my grandparents met on a blind date in New York City in the 1920’s and decided to marry within a week.

Granddad Tom was sent to Havana to open an office for United Press International. He became El Presidente Local for the U. P. I. in Cuba.

When he returned near the end of the decade he was handed a 40% pay cut even though the cost of living was higher in New York City than in Cuba.

If that wasn’t bad enough, in October of 1929, the Stock Market crashed and the economy began a long slide into what became the Great Depression. Granddad survived multiple rounds of layoffs by accepting further pay cuts.

Grandmother Anne realized that they couldn’t afford rent on Granddad’s dwindling salary, so she took a job as a receptionist with a developer who was building houses on the farm next to their rented home in White Plains. Soon she was managing four salesmen. She received 2 ½ percent in commission on every home sold.

To help care for the children, she found a lovely couple at the unemployment office. The wife was a nurse trained in Canada but without a license to practice in New York. Her husband was a handyman.  She exchanged room and board for childcare and yard work.

Grandmother convinced the developer to build (at cost) a model home for them with an extra room for their tenants. She became a stellar saleswoman in her own right. Before long, her commissions had completely covered the construction costs, and the home was theirs outright.

Granddad wrote to a friend that the Great Depression had been unbelievably good to them. Before the Crash they had had high hopes, but owning a house ‘free and clear’ in just a few years was inconceivable. Where could they have found a trained nurse and groundskeeper simply by letting them live in a spare bedroom and join them for meals? Freed of the burden of paying bills, the young couple soon saved enough money working odd-jobs to buy a gas station and start their own business. Because most of his coworkers had either been laid off (or quit rather than take a pay cut), Granddad had no competition as senior positions became available. His career took off.

In the 1920’s my grandparents had had Great Plans.

During the Great Depression they just tried to survive.

Sometimes just surviving is the winningest strategy of all.

Advertisements

Author: Brooke Allen

A social entrepreneur and retired Wall Street executive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s