Sunday, February 15, 2009

Potato Pickers

This picture was taken in 1935 in California. It shows a family from Oklahoma working as Potato pickers in California. The Oklahoma Dustbowl forced the family to drive across the country in search of work. The picture shows them living in a roadside tent.


  1. My mother lived in Arizona, under similar conditions, after her father died of tuberculosis in 1925. Her two older sisters quit school and worked with her mother in a laundry to put food on the table. She and her little brother stayed “home alone.” During the hot summers, they slept outside the tent and put the legs of the bed into little cans of kerosene, to keep the scorpions from joining them in bed. Mother was six years old. They all grew up to be strong, self reliant people.

  2. Wow Rebecca, your mother's experiences sound like they would make an interesting book to read...

    I like this picture. By the way, Vincent Van Gogh chose potato pickers as the subject for a number of his paintings. He was attracted to their earthiness, hard work, and their spirit of survival.

  3. Talk about hard times. I would surely never wish to live like that.

    Yet, there are people today, in our current economic crisis, who do not have a payday to look forward to.

  4. I think this photo really captures the type of life these people led.

    Last night, we took my dad, who is approaching his 94th birthday, out to dinner.

    He was telling us about what it was was like when he was a kid on Federal Hill in Providence, RI (where the Italian immigrants lived). All of my grandparents were from Italy.

    He was born in 1915, and he said they didn't have electricity until around 1930. They had gas lights instead, because they were poor.

    And . . . he said they had to go down the street to the bathhouses to take a shower. They only got to bath once a week. In the tenement where they lived, they had one bathroom with cold water and no tub. And they shared it with everyone else in the house.

    I thought my daughter was going to die, she takes two showers a day!!

  5. Smartgirl, your Dad's situation would make bathing everyother day a real challenge! Things were indeed tough back then.

    My Dad left the farm to go to college and worked at least two jobs while studying and going to class. While he did not starve, he nearly worked himself to death because he,like so many of his fellow students, realized that the only up was hard work and dedication.

    I worry about our current generation of children because we have not prepared them for the tough world away from the comparative comfort they have today. I have four grandchildern that will, I assure you, learn the value and satisfaction of a hard day of work Maybe they will go to Texas A&M like their mommas!

  6. I am one of the people Brother Dave speaks of, no payday to look forward to.

    I ran three International / National business for over 20 years. All three collapsed last November. I thought I was recession proof, one business was very high tech making surgical demonstration models for teaching purposes. I was responsible; I paid my taxes, I did not over indulge, I saved a lot, but expenses since May have eaten them away.

    I have earned and lost two fortunes in my life, one to a bad business partner the other in a lopsided divorce thanks to the court system. All this means is I will earn a third fortune. I am at this moment launching a new version of one business via the net. I have never been more OPTIMISTIC.

    I have applied for three positions, which rarely come up in my chosen field and lost one bid. I cannot get unemployment because our government does not allow self employed to be eligible. I do not health insurance and I couldn't pay my taxes or my mortgage this month.

    My point is there is a lot of talk about how this country is going over to socialism. Bah! Also the readers of this blog seem to be a little to the right. Well have no fear, this country is far from being socialist or taking care of its people because there are many like me who have served their country, paid their taxes etc. and cannot get a helping hand.

  7. Anonomous above,
    WOW, I am sure the sympathy and best wishes of everyone here go out to you. We are hopeful that things turn back up for you.

    However, all might not share your optimism. All great empires have come to an end, and it is arrogant for us to believe our empire will go on forever, especially when as a nation the majority of us ignore the principles that let to our greatness.

    The Soviet Union was once a great empire, and look how quickly it fell.

  8. Hi,

    Thank you for your well wishes.

    When I spoke of optimism I was speaking on a personal level for my newly resurrected business. I am a survivor like the people in the photo and parents who survived the Great Depression.

    I actually feel bad for my mother, who was born in it and now has to go through another.

    I agree about empires and believe our nation has become one. Where it will lead, I am not sure, but I have no control over it.

  9. Al:

    Your dad sounds like mine.

    That entire depression-era generation had a completely different set of expectations and a much stronger work ethic than subsequent generations.

    My father is still a man to be recokend with. He was (and is) a brilliant man, who was forced to quit school in 1930 at the age of 15 because everyone else in his family of seven had lost their jobs in the depression.

    So, even though he had tremendous potential, he left school and worked about 65 hours a week in a hardware store for a weekly salary of about $16. Of course, he turned his paycheck over to his mother. When his parents died shortly thereafter, he turned his paycheck over to his oldest sister.

    He worked there for five years and the owners really liked him, but he was fired when he finally asked for a raise.

    He found another job at the Sears Roebuck store in Providence, and he worked there until he enlisted in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor.

    Through self-education and hard work, he became eventually became a personnel executive at one of the largest jewelry manufacturing companies in Rhode Island and had a successful career.

    I am 55 and consider myself rather conservative financially, but my dad still criticizes some of the things my husband and I do as frivilous. I still listen to his advice.

  10. Hi Smartgirl,

    I think our Dads were twins! Mine was so fiscally conservative that when he finally replaced his 1947 Kaiser with a new 1957 Plymouth, he ordered it with nothing but a heater. As a teenager, I was mortified that I would have to drive a car without a radio, but then he asked what made me think I was going to drive it at all. I had to earn a car of my own. The one I finally could afford (for cash, of course)didn't have a radio either.

    Actually, Dad had purchased a nice '54 Mercury for Mom but it was off limits to all of us...especially me.

    He worked until he was well into his 80's and enjoyed relatively good health until his last few years. Turns out his conservative fiscal practices rubbed of on me.

  11. I wonder if this downturn will be a blessing in disguise to Americans; to re-focus on our common purpose to create a good future.

    The culture had become too disconnected in my view.

  12. To Al:

    Yes, they definitely must have been twins, and certainly good examples for us.

    And, to AB, you are correct, maybe the rampant materialism will slow down.

    Anonymous - you represent what this country is supposed to be about. Good luck, and I know you'll prevail.