Chester Martin's 95-Year-Old Cousin Remembers A Great Depression Christmas

Monday, December 26, 2016

(The following was written by my 95-year-old cousin, Edna Hitchins, who is now in a Presbyterian assisted-living facility in or near Marietta, Ga.  Her mind remains as clear as a bell. Edna grew up in Chattanooga, but married early and left the area “when Chickamauga Lake was still empty, and with tree stumps everywhere”. She refers to her Uncle Sol, who was a building contractor here in town. “Uncle Solly” to my mom, he and Aunt Betty (Smith) Henry, were two of my mom’s favorite people.)

I and my three siblings became orphans in 1926, and went to live with our beloved maternal grandparents and their daughter. My grandmother and aunt were pianists, and my grandfather played the "fiddle," so our ears were filled with live music daily. My aunt was also choir director and organist at our church. Many church gatherings were in our home where we gathered around the piano to sing.

Our halcyon childhood days changed abruptly in 1929 with the sudden death of our grandfather and the "Great Depression" that descended on the entire country. In October the stock market crashed, most of the banks failed, and millions of American families became destitute. My grieving grandmother tried to protect us from the extent of her anxiety, but we knew there was little hope that Santa would find our home on the approaching Christmas Eve.

Unlike the affluent years of the "roaring twenties," the depression brought out the human kindness in the American people. The national state of austerity developed a sense of being "my brother's keeper." Churches and many organizations and individuals began programs to meet the need for food and shelter. This was especially critical as cold weather and the Advent season and Christmas approached. And my grandmother had inherited "the faith of her pioneer fathers." Her Christian faith and love turned her concern toward the needs of others.

Soon hungry men, called "hoboes" began coming to our door. The main rail line ran close by. Men leaped from the train as it slowed to enter the city, fearing arrest if they reached the terminal. My hundred pound grandmother was fearless when Christian values were an issue. She never failed to invite any hungry man into her kitchen for hot coffee and a simple depression-era meal, such as beans and cornbread. To her, the hoboes were not law-breakers, but honest men looking for any work that would help feed their families.

On Christmas morning, our grandmother aroused us before daylight, telling us to hurry downstairs. At the foot of the steps we stopped and gazed in awe at a beautiful green tree in a room filled with the flickering light from many candles, clipped to the branches with tiny metal holders. Four stockings hung from the mantle, each bulging with an orange, an apple, nuts and candy. On each stocking was a name and a note with directions to look in a certain place. Then began the scampering of little feet up and down the stairs and into every room, as each note held a clue to find another note. The last note led each child to a final site where a small gift was waiting. After he merry chase, we were laughing and excited over our gift. That year my gift was the book, A Little Princess, wrapped in a pair of warm pajamas. We had not missed Santa Clause. We felt surrounded by love. We knew too that the greatest gift of all time is God's gift of His beloved Son, the tiny baby born in a stable.

Most of my ninety-four Christmases have dimmed in my memory, but the Great Depression Christmas of 1929 was too significant to be forgotten.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your gift of love and the message of salvation to the world through Your Son, Jesus. Thank You, too, for all the lives that have been dedicated through the centuries to passing your Word from generation to generation. Amen.

Edna Hitchins 

Editor's Note: Edna Hitchins, now living at Presbyterian Village, joined Trinity in 1951, when it held worship services at Morris Brandon School. She can be reached by email,

Reese Brabson Was Among Stump Speakers In Chattanooga's Early Days

Reese Bowen Brabson was "a character - portly, jovial, lawyer, politician. He was an orator and scholar - polished and elegant.'' Whenever the Whigs wanted a Democrat denounced, they could count on red-headed Reese Brabson to mount the stump and do so. Like Col. Rush Montgomery, Reese Brabson predicted a great future for the city that had recently switched from ... (click for more)

John S. Elder Was Early Settler At Ooltewah

The Elders were among Tennessee's earliest pioneers and were well acquainted with Davy Crockett. John S. Elder and his nephew, Robert S. Elder, made their way to Hamilton County at an early date. The family traces back to Samuel Elder, who in April 1796 paid $200 for 150 acres in the "County of Greene Territory of the United States of America South ... (click for more)

Cachet Peterson, 21, Killed, Tiana Linares, 24, Injured, In Drive-by Shooting Early Sunday Morning On Chestnut Street

Cachet Peterson, 21, was killed and Tiana Linares, 24, was injured in a drive-by shooting on Chestnut Street early Sunday morning. The Chattanooga Police Department responded to a shooting call at 1:27 a.m. in the 1800 block of Chestnut Street .  Upon arrival, officers located the two female victims in a vehicle suffering from gunshot wounds. HCEMS responded to the ... (click for more)

Woman Killed At Foot Of Lookout Mountain After Truck Loses Brakes

A woman was killed at the foot of Lookout Mountain on Saturday morning after her car was struck by a truck that had lost its brakes coming down the mountain. The victim was identified as Mallory Baldschun. A child in her Toyota Tacoma had minor injuries, police said. The driver of the International Prostar truck, James Wilson, also had minor injuries. Two other vehicles ... (click for more)

Six Things We Can Do About Mass Shootings - And Response (2)

All politics aside, the recent shooting in Florida, and every other shooting in a public place, is a senseless and, possibly, preventable tragedy. It is absurd that we can’t gather in a free society without the fear of some nut job or terrorist using us as targets.   And then the cries of “do something!” from every quarter. But, other than the obvious attempt by agenda-pushers ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Arm Our Teachers Now

There are three distinct reasons that Grady Judd, the sheriff of Polk County, Fla., is one of the top law enforcement officers in the country. Just last week he was named as president of the Major-Cities Sheriff’s Association -- he’s that good. Also last week he begged America to arm itself, rigid in his belief the best way to stop school shootings and other mass incidents is by ... (click for more)