Every morning, Evelyn Cutler skims the newspaper headlines and cringes over her oatmeal and coffee. With more homes going into foreclosure, people losing their jobs and customers lining up outside a California bank to empty their savings accounts, "I really wonder some days what year we're in," she says.
With bad news all around, some days Evelyn feels as though she's waking up in 1929.
Now 84, she was a kindergartner when the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. She remembers coming in from playing on the steps outside her family's New York City apartment and hearing her parents talking excitedly in Yiddish about the day's events.
"I knew that something was different," she says, "but as a child, I had few worries. It wasn't until I grew older that I realized how hard those years were for my family."
With the generation that endured the Depression now dwindling, Evelyn thought it would be a good idea to share a few memories of growing up in the Bronx during the 1930s.
After a Free Lunch of stuffed green peppers at the Sarah Daft retirement home where she has lived since moving to Salt Lake City to be near her daughter two years ago, she settles into a lawn chair beneath a shady chestnut tree and thinks back 80 years.
"It was a very hard time, but the thing that saved us was that everything was so cheap compared to now," she says. "A loaf of bread and a quart of milk cost only 10 cents. So if everybody in the family could make just a little bit of money, you could manage."
The youngest of seven children born to William and Anna Starr, immigrants from Poland, Evelyn remembers watching her older sisters and brother go off each morning to work in a garment factory for a few dollars a day. They added their wages to what their father brought home as a cigar store manager to make the family's $35 a month rent.
"My mother was a very creative cook she knew how to make things stretch to feed nine people," Evelyn recalls. "Every Friday, we had a chicken dinner, then all weekend, we'd have chicken soup.
"We'd have matzo meal pancakes with a little cinnamon and sugar the most delicious thing in the world," she adds. "If there was money left over from the week, I'd get a dime to go buy some chocolate. I remember thinking how lucky I was."
All of Evelyn's neighbors were immigrants, grateful for a new chance after leaving Ireland, Italy, Russia, Romania, Hungary and Cuba, even if it meant standing in bread lines.
"The Depression was rough, but many of them had seen worse," she says. "Although nobody had any money, there was a closeness in the neighborhood that you rarely find today."
Even after 12 years of poverty, the Starr family felt fortunate when World War II started. "If my parents hadn't come to the United States, we'd all have been in Poland when Hitler came through and killed all of the Polish Jews," says Evelyn.Her advice today to people who are struggling is to remember what is truly important. "A fancy car, a big home it really doesn't mean much," she says. "Your relationships with others are what will help you in the end."
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