I did not grow up during the Depression.
My parents, also, did not grow up during the Depression.
But, my grandparents were teenagers during the Depression.
They say it can take two generations for the impact of huge societal turbulence to wash off the people who are heirs to these events.
Here are some interesting things that my grandparents did as a result of growing up in a time of great scarcity:
My grandmother saved the string that you get on a cake box from the bakery. You know, the really thin red and white striped string. I never once in my life saw that string get used but she had it. She also re-used tissues. They were hidden in her sleeve (you never sneezed in front of Nanny).
My grandfather re-used teabags. He would use the same teabag to make 3 cups of tea.
They turned off every light in their apartment unless it was being put to direct and essential use. Lights weren’t left on “just in case we might go back in the bedroom”. My grandparents’ house always seemed dark to me. They didn’t give away electricity for free back then.
Consequently, my parents picked up some of these customs. My mother always saved the plastic bags that bread came in. I never saw these get used until, one winter after heavy snow, I was going sleigh riding with my friends. My mom showed me how to put on a sock, put the bag over the sock, then cover that with another sock. It worked great to keep my feet warm and dry. I asked my mom where she learned that trick, she said it was something her parents did during the Depression.
Growing up this way, I’ve inherited some of these same quirks. I can’t bring myself to throw away the rubber bands that they put around asparagus and broccoli at the grocery store when you buy them. Also, I reuse paper towels that I used to wipe off the kitchen counter (this one drives my kids crazy!).
The things we do to survive a crisis get into our cultural DNA and we pass those survival skills down to our children as they watch us behave. What lasting effects will the precautions we are taking in light of COVID-19 have on my impressionable, young adolescent middle school students? Will their grandchildren wonder why they never shake hands with anyone, why they leave four seats between them when they go to a movie, will they be better about saving money to prepare for unforeseeable economic catastrophes like the one we’re experiencing now, will they stay connected to their families and friends regularly using whatever passes for Google Hangout or Zoom in the future (probably Google Hangout and Zoom). Some of these impacts are positive, some are negative. We cannot predict the future but I certainly hope some of the adjustments we’ve made do not last long after this crisis is over…
… because I desperately need a hug.