Not that different

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 23, 2008

NATCHEZ — For Pat Sledge, formerly of Vidalia and now living in Natchez, growing up during The Great Depression and celebrating the holidays during that hard economic time, wasn’t all that different from every other day for his family.

“If you don’t have anything to begin with, you don’t know what you’re missing,” he said. “We were poor to start with.”

Sledge, born in 1913, was 16 when the stock market crashed on Oct. 25, 1929. He said his family, a farming family from Central Georgia, struggled selling their goods but didn’t lose a lot of money “playing the stock market.”

Email newsletter signup

“Our biggest problem was that we couldn’t sell anything because it wasn’t worth anything,” Sledge said.

So they did what they had to do. They ate what they raised, and raised what they needed.

“We just operated without any money,” he said.

During the holiday season not much changed. There weren’t two month-long celebrations for Thanksgiving or Christmas or elaborate decorations.

“We didn’t have a tree or anything,” Sledge said. “And Thanksgiving, that was just another day.”

But what was present was family, and Sledge said that is what the holidays are supposed to be about anyway.

“My family was a close knit family. We have always been a close group,” he said. “You don’t see that as much now.”

The one thing that did set Christmas apart from other winter days was the food that was prepared.

Sledge said his mother would prepare a feast for the day that included lots of homemade desserts and a large ham.

“I had to boil the ham. That was my job,” he said “We washed out a big tub, and I had to keep the fire going all day.”

Christmas for the Sledge children wasn’t entirely giftless, but he said it didn’t compare to the number of gifts families exchange now.

“Santa Claus didn’t come back then the way he does today,” he said. “We’d set out a shoe box or something, and we would get probably one toy in it.”

Sledge remembers receiving one toy in particular.

“One year we got one of those pop guns,” Sledge said “It probably cost 50 cents, but it was a big toy for us.”

Although, his family didn’t lose money directly when the stock market bottomed out in 1929, he said he came face-to-face with the graveness of the depression while in high school.

Sledge had been saving his money for a bicycle.

“You definitely couldn’t afford an automobile at that time,” he said.

One day, while in town for school, he asked permission from his high school principal to go to the bank and deposit the money he had saved.

Permission was granted, and Sledge opened an account for the money he was collecting. Sledge recalled being called to that same principal’s office shortly after depositing the money.

“He called me into his office and asked if I still had that money in the bank. I said I did,” Sledge said. “He told me to go down there and take it out immediately.

“I did, and the next day they closed the bank. They called it a bank holiday.”

Sledge said that was the closest he came to losing money during The Great Depression.

On a daily basis, Sledge and his five brothers and sisters worked on the family farm doing whatever work was required of them. The family grew peanuts, among other things, and Sledge, having a fondness for peanuts, said he enjoyed working with the peanut crop the most.

“We’d hang them from the roof of the barn in pans by wires so the rats couldn’t get them,” he said. “I still love peanuts.”

At the end of a long day, Sledge said his mom would send him out to get the peanuts. The family would gather around the table to enjoy the treat.

“That’s how we stayed close,” he said.