A Blessing in Disguise: 1929

Sarah Shevd, guest writer

October 28, 1929. The day men lost jobs. The day school doors closed for many children. The day the economy fell apart. On this day, “The United States…entered an economic slump known as the Great Depression” (Nishi). This is the day that marked it all.
My name is Katie Tarshnik, and I am 18. My birthday this year coincided with the day Popeye the Sailor man made his first debut.
My family and I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio ever since I was the age of two. Mom was beautiful, an amazing seamstress. I loved to brag about her. She designed and hand-crafted the costumes for the film “The Broadway Melody”. She was even invited to the first academy awards and the grand opening of the Museum of Modern Art because of her growing popularity in the clothing business. Ever since my father was paralyzed in WWI, my mother was the only breadwinner in the family. My mother’s position as an assistant seamstress didn’t afford us diamonds, but we got by.
In 1929, the United States population reached 120 million. Everything changed when the stock market crashed. Suddenly people were losing their houses, jobs, and businesses. It would be a lie to claim the stock market crash didn’t affect every single person, in one way or another, especially for people with disabilities like my father.
Dad was always so strong, bearing his disability with optimism. Although he was in constant pain, I never heard him complain. As the American economy plummeted, mom started losing her regular customers. Things got so bad we were not able to afford medicine for my father. Money had been scarce but was getting scarcer. His pain became excruciating. He tried to hide it, but you could see the pain in his eyes. My mom and I hurt because we knew we couldn’t do anything. Living from day to day became a struggle. I could tell my father was harboring internal bitterness because of his helplessness, his inability to provide for the family.
* * *
The Great Depressions reeked poverty. Families in the middle class, like mine, were greatly affected. Factory jobs became scarce. When things got worse, we often went without food. When our hunger was unbearable and there was no income coming in, my parents and I would wait in long lines.
April 14, 1930. On this day, everything changed in the life of my family. It wasn’t so much about the nation anymore or the economy—it was about us, about my mom, dad, and me. My mother and I came home from school to a terrifying sight, one that I cannot get out of my head.
My father died. Just like that, he disappeared.
His quiet, calm presence left. I had never seen a dead person before. I remember being completely shocked. I didn’t understand. I remember my mother crying out of pain and shock, “Why would you leave us at a time like this? I can’t do this without you!”
Those words permeated my thoughts. My mother was utterly distraught, and it shattered my heart. There we were, mother and I…alone. That day was the worst day of my life. I had never seen her so devastated. She was always so happy and optimistic, and here she was, a total wreck. I felt as if the world had just collapsed, and she was under all of the rubble, barely breathing.
My father never had a proper burial. We had no money. My family was never religious, but mother insisted that we at least have a pastor lead the burial. I remember the pastor reading a passage from the scriptures. “The Lord is my shepherd”. I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand why a God would allow this to happen to us. Why did my father have to die? Why was my mother totally depressed? What kind of God would let his “children” go through so much? I didn’t understand how he took care of us. I remember thinking that if there was a God, then he was doing a lousy job keeping his kids “safe”. If anything, he was just tearing families apart because of this horrible depression. Because of his will, my father was no longer with us.
After the funeral, country’s state declined further. The demand for getting clothes mended or altered dropped to an all-time low. One of the last things people worried about was their clothes. To save money, mother made the decision to give up our beloved apartment, the one I grew up in. She thought it’d be best that the two of us rent out a room. During the time, people with large houses began renting out their rooms in order to have enough money to keep their homes.
We found an ad that boasted rooms for rent and moved in June 11, 1930. I fell in love the first time I saw the house. It was the most beautiful house I had ever stepped in. Sunlight streamed through the windows and it painted the wood floors golden. The house looked straight out of a movie. I was almost sympathetic for the owners. I would never want to let anyone live in my house, especially one such as this. When we settled in our room, I met the owners, Tom and Lily Bowden. Till this day, I have never met a nicer family. They too had one child, a nineteen-year-old son. At dinner I got to meet the other four people renting rooms. There at dinner, I met Elliot Bowden. He had golden blonde hair, bright green eyes that lit up the room, and fiery sun-freckles that covered his nose and cheeks. When I walked into the dining room, he was whistling the famous tune from a Broadway show, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” while folding napkins for the table. I was alone because mother was tired from all the moving that day and decided to go to bed without any supper. I personally couldn’t wait to get food in my belly. My father always joked that my stomach was a bottomless pit. I eagerly sat down.
“Need any help?” I asked
Without saying anything, he calmly handed me a couple napkins and gave me a shy smile.
“Thanks” he replied.
“I don’t think we have met each other. My name is Elliot. My parents are the owners of this house”.
We had a nice chat about where he worked and what we did before the Great Depression. He told me he still had a job at one of the factories here in Cincinnati.
I thought how fortunate he was. Here he has a beautiful home, two parents that were making a steady living, and he had a factory job that were so rare.
“Wow, you are so lucky!” I replied.
“No, it’s not luck, it’s just blessings from our almighty Father in heaven.”
I immediately knew he was a Christian.
“Are your parents Christian as well?”
“Yes, been like that my entire life.”
We ended the conversation when Tom and Lily came in with dinner.
Other borders wandered in to eat. They were all different but seemed kind and grateful for the food.
I woke up the next morning to my mother wearing her “going out” dress.
“Momma, where you off to so early?”
“I’m going to church.”
“Church? Since when do you go to church?”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
I looked out of our window and saw Mr. and Mrs. Bowden with Elliot going into their car with my mother following them. Every week after that, my mother would go to church with the Bowdens. Every time they would ask me if I’d like to go, but I always declined.
“I’ve lived without God in my life for the past eighteen years, if I’ve gone this far without him I think I’ll be fine without church.”
One day, when my mother came home from church, she changed. She was genuinely happy. Her eyes glistened and her smile was genuine. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone so happy, in my entire life.
“Oh Katie! The best thing had happened to me! I have accepted Jesus into my heart!”
I thought my mother got new customers or a new job. I was a little disappointed, I didn’t understand what the big deal was.
“Katie, you’re going to church with me next week. I want you to experience the happiness I have.”
By this time, I had begun to get close to Elliot, we would always talk about our dreams, hopes, and plans for the future. We’d take long walks; those were some of my favorite memories. He always talked about God and I was fine with his belief. I just didn’t understand why everyone made such a big deal over someone that you couldn’t even see. This Jesus turned water into wine, he healed the eyes of the blind, and he died for all my faults and sins. I didn’t understand. I would always ask myself, “If this so called Jesus is so great, why did he make our lives so hard? Why did he let my father die? Why were we struggling financially? Why did he make me leave school because of Americas economy crash?” What was so great about him? That week, I went to church for the first time in my life. Little did I know, the person that walked into that church that morning, would not be the same person that walked out. I listened to the gospel preached, and how Jesus died to give us new life. I began to understand what Elliot said when I first met him. “It’s all blessings from God” he said. I finally realized that the joy the Bowdens and my mother felt was from Jesus. He gave them happiness and peace at a time that only gifted grief to others. That morning, I accepted Jesus into my heart. Joy came over me like it had never came before.
I finally felt peace that I had never possessed before. We walked out of that church completely elated and overjoyed.
December 4, 1930—almost a year since the market crashed. A lot had happened. More people had been affected by the economic downfall. Praise be to God I’m still alive and well. Those past couple of months were chaotic. The most monumental event was that my mother died. I was left alone, shattered. The Bowdens became my second family. Elliot has been by far God’s kindest gift. We grew closer and closer. We studied the Bible together and talked about everything under the sun. He was a blessing from God, since I lost my mom to influenza last October. Surprisingly, I felt peace with it. I knew she died happy, she died knowing she would one day meet her Savior face to face. That gave me peace and encouragement to keep pushing forward. I had grown closer to God. He was my comforter in time of despair, and I knew he would carry me through any problem I had, as a shepherd carries his sheep to safety. Though the Great Depression changed my life completely, I believe it was a blessing in disguise. I was able have a personal relationship with the one that gave me life. That was the greatest blessing of all.
Works Cited
Nishi, Dennis Ed. The Great Depression. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Print.
Hanes, Sharon and Richard Hanes. Great Depression and New Deal. Thomson Learning Inc, 2003. Print.
“The Great Depression.” History. 2009. Web. 18 January 2018.
“25 Ways People Earned Money During The Great Depression.” The Survival Mom. 3 December 2015. 18 January 2018.
“What Happened in 1929.” On This Day. n.d. Web. 29 January 2018.