Michigan Farm Life in the Great Depression, Part One

By Susan Wallin Mosey

Excerpts from the childhood of my mother-in-law, Donna Garver Mosey, in her own words:

I was the seventh born of fifteen children.  (The fifteenth one, William, had a bad heart and lived only a few days.)  I was born at home, as we all were.  When a new baby was about to be born, we would go outside to play, if we could, in the old corn crib if it was empty.  There was no telephone, so Dad would go and bring the midwife.  I remember once telling my teacher that when I grew up I wanted to have lots of children, like my mother did.

My dad was a ‘dirt poor farmer’…  One year a spark from the threshing machine caused a fire in the barn with the crop, so there was no way to make the farm payment to the bank.  So we had to move.  We moved into my great aunt Ellen Garver’s house.  Not a great house, but by sleeping three to four in a bed we kept warm.

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After Grandpa Charles Garver died in 1931, we moved into the family home on Adams Road (shown in photo).  The main floor of the house had a living room with a kerosene space heater, and a sofa, and always some rocking chairs.  The first floor also had the girls’ bedroom and my parents’ room.  In the lean-to part of the house it had a pantry and laundry room and a kitchen/eating area, with a dining table to seat twelve and a wood stove for cooking.  The second floor had only the chimney for heat, and that was the boys’ bedroom.  That house on Adams Road didn’t have electricity until the 1940s, and there was no indoor bathroom until 1946, about the time I got married.

Besides farming 40 acres of land, Dad worked for the WPA in the 1930s, helping to build Route M61.  They built it by hand, with shovels.  He boarded out during the week and came home on weekends.  The workers who had horses got more money than those who had only shovels and manpower, so since every nickel counted, Dad was hired with a team of horses.

I started at a country school.  It was 2¼ miles there, so some days, my brother Lester pulled me to school on a sled.  Other days, the milkman saw us Garver kids and picked us up and gave us a ride…  After that we changed schools, to the Browns Corners one room school, half a mile closer to home.  That first school, Brand School, closed after we left, since there weren’t enough students without us!

Donna Mosey

I had a lady teacher at Browns Corners School, and I loved her.  That teacher was the one who put my name in as the one and only student from our school who was allowed to go on a trip to the Upper Peninsula by school bus.  We saw Tahquamenon Falls, Castle Rock at St. Ignace, and rode the Mackinac ferry (there was no bridge then).

This story is part 1 of a 3 part series. Read part 2 here.

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