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.

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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, ednahitchins@gmail.com

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