By Jug Varner
My Jug’s Journal writings frequently refer to Lubbock - where I lived during my public school years. Bonnie and I established our first post-WWII home in this Texas panhandle prairie town - an area once inhabited by native tribes and buffalo herds, but now one of the world‘s top producers of irrigated cotton and grain.
An unusual itinerate life has offered me many places to call “home” before and since that 1930s-40s era but, although few friends and no relatives remain there, Lubbock is still the “hometown of my heart.” It contains memories of my formative childhood, teenage and early marriage years, and is one of only three cities where I lived for more than three years during my 80-years-and-counting voyage on planet Earth. Our current hometown Sarasota FL may become the fourth.
These “good old days” recall the time I was growing up, trying but failing to see the world through rose-colored glasses - a term that once described “seeing things as you wanted them to be, not as they were.” Despite those financially depressed years, when I began working as a ten-year-old in my family’s restaurant, I was somewhat protected by parental pride that never wanted their kids to know how close we were to the bottom rung of poverty.
We didn’t have much money but we did have basic clothes, something to eat and two small rooms (in the back of the restaurant) to call home - as well as being continually reminded to “count your blessings.” Kids couldn’t help but know, however. We saw the many destitute “have-nots” passing through our town in search of hope - and a handout from the “haves.” Sometimes the “haves” were almost as poor as the needy people they shared food and clothing with, but everyone shared something. I couldn’t number the ones who came to the back door of our restaurant asking if they might do some work to earn a meal. We honored their dignity by assigning them some minor tasks, if there were any, but generally we fed as many as we possibly could.
The parents’ strength and protection came from their grit, determination, hard work and sincere belief that things would get better. Back then, one’s destiny hinged on individual effort, not government assistance - although overcoming that national financial disaster was abetted by numerous government social programs to “make work” across the nation through building dams and parks, creating art for federal buildings and other temporary jobs to increase the number of employed, even if poorly paid. In 1933 more than 25% of the nation’s work force was idle.
In 1937, when conditions began to ease slightly, Congress enacted a law to establish the Social Security Administration - today an integral part of our lives. Then, however, it was difficult to give up the miniscule amount one paid into the new-fangled program each month.
The financial crisis was not the only problem. Disastrous weather conditions created terrible duststorms that eroded farmland soil throughout the Midwestern states from Canada to Mexico during a prolonged drought, turning once-fertile land into desert. Among the worst hit areas were Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle.
Unable to grow crops or pay their bills, farm families left their homesteads and migrated elsewhere - seeking work of any kind but finding little. California was one of the favorite areas and the influx of these migrants helped increase that states population by an additional 2,500,000 souls during the 1930s.
Growing up in this type of environment made a lasting impression on all who experienced it. If there ever was a situation that one could describe as “character building,” that was it for me. At an early age I learned the importance of giving 100% effort to any endeavor, kindness, generosity, love of family, love of friends, love of God, love of country, honesty, integrity, and many other good qualities of life. It was what parents and teachers expected of young people in those days and held them to it. Most families attended church regularly, came to the aid of their neighbors, and lived decent lives.
When World War II came upon us, America’s young men and women were adult beyond their years and well grounded in the work ethic it took to man the battle stations and shore up armed services that had been badly depleted of personnel and equipment through lack of funding during the Great Depression years.
Young people today may be tired of hearing about the so-called “greatest generation,” but set in that time frame of financial and environmental disaster, we were a generation with character — built through trials and deprivation experienced during our youth.