Family Stories: 1930 Stroll… Mama was born

Family Stories

1930 Stroll… Mama was born

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The 1930’s saw the growth of what was known as “Shanty Towns”… aka squatter settlements created by the Great Depression, extreme political views, and what many considered an upside down world in times where bank robbers, like Bonnie and Clyde, were seen as heroes instead of villains.

Cost of Living in 1930…

  • Cost of a gallon of gas was 10 cents: From 1930 to 1940, gas only changed “one cent” going to 11 cents. What a difference from today… where it jumps up overnight… often several times in a week. At this writing, (March 2019) the price of gas in Connecticut is $2.49 a gallon… $1.99 in Georgia… and $1.95 in Virginia. When we travel, we fill up before leaving, as Virginia is the first state for find for cheaper gas, then South Carolina is next. In the past I’ve seen bigger differences in the gas, especially when our gas in CT was over $4 a gallon.
  • A Firestone tire was around $3.69: Another way my grandfather made extra money was… picking up old tires he found on the side of the road and reselling them. There was always someone on Sunday who needed a tire. He definitely was one of the early wheeler and dealers! Mama says… “my daddy knew how to make money, we were never without what was needed, he provided in every way.”
  • Single vision glasses were $3.85 in 1938: My grandmother always wore glasses, but granddaddy didn’t and neither my mother or her brother wore glasses as young children. Sometimes I think my mother needs them now, but she’s so vain… and will have no part of it… but then complains when she can’t read what came in the mail… and goes hunting down a pair of cheater glasses around the house… often never finding them! I still have a thin wire frame pair of my grandmother’s glasses… and naturally I tried them on and couldn’t see a thing! She needed them as she spent every evening piecing quilts or crocheting doilies by only the light of a kerosene lamp… no wonder she needed glasses! I definitely need my glasses today when I knit or sew… and even with them I often still can’t thread my sewing machine. That is one of the most frustrating things to me… not being able to see as I once did!
  • 10 piece bedroom suite $79.85: First, I can’t even visualize ten pieces in a bedroom set! Mama remembers when her mother fell in love with a “new” bedroom set. Being the teaser my grandfather was, he taunted her that he wasn’t buying it, but he indeed did buy it for her… he never denied my grandmother anything she wanted… he might tease her in the beginning, but he always gave in… in the end. Two of the pieces are still at my mother’s today… furniture back then were made from real wood… not like the knock-down furniture you buy today. As a little girl, I loved to sit at her vanity on the big stool… and I plan on bringing home that stool on my next trip home… it holds many memories.
  • Deluxe quality silk lined hat: I’m assuming this is a womans hat they’re referring to… and so many women wore hats at that time. In some of my older family photos, I’ve seen several hats on my grandmother, but the one that makes me smile is a cloche style hat mama found that matched grandmama’s polka dot flapper style dress. It reminds me of how Nancy Drew dressed in the early books, especially on the cover of the first book, The Mystery of the Old Clock; Nancy sported a cloche style hat on the first edition dust jacket. Mama enjoyed playing dress up in that dress… now wishing she had saved it. Maybe it was what my grandmother married in… she never wore it again, but had always kept it. Sadly, no photo has ever surfaced of it!
  • Plymouth Road Car was $685 in 1938: My grandfather never bought a new car until much later in the 50’s… his first used car was a Ford Model T with the rumble seat, later upgrading to the Model A. He tried teaching my grandmother to drive in the Model T, but made her so nervous that she ran in the ditch and broke her arm. She never wanted to drive again after that. The old Model T sat under the car shed for years after buying the Model A… she and her brother Leroy often played in it. Leroy was very mechanical and he’d enjoyed pulling it out to take the entire engine apart, laying the parts all out on a blanket. It always made my grandfather so mad, even though he knew Leroy could put it back together! He later sold it for $15 one day… oh how I wish those cars had been left under the car shed for me!



One of my favorite photos, and earliest of my mother… Love that granddaddy’s Ford Model T is shown in the photo, but I’m sure having the car in the photo wasn’t their objective!

My mother, Helen Rebecca McKinley, was born at the beginning of the depression on April 6, 1930… just 22 days before Nancy Drew made her book debut! Just think, my mother could have been named Nancy if she’d been born a little later in the month. She’s always hated her name… so maybe she might have liked that name better! The name “Nancy” was no. 9, while “Helen” was no. 10 of the most popular names from the 1930-1940 list by Social Security. By 1940 the name “Nancy” rose to no. 7… wonder if the popularity of Nancy Drew played a part in the spike of the name change… the books had become very popular during the 1940’s. Big change in 1950 though, as the name of “Helen” dropped to no. 76… and my name of Jeanne was at 114… and I didn’t find “Nancy” at all!

When I asked mama why her mother named her Helen… “mama never said anything about how or why she named me, I guess she just liked that name. No one else in our family was named Helen, and I didn’t know any Rebecca.

While researching my maternal side of the family I discovered that my mother’s grandmother’s mother was named Rebecca Ann Mapp (1829-1906)… Bingo! Even though she died in 1906, a year before my mother’s mother, Ola Askew (1907-1970), was born… her mother, Margaret Hillsman, (1869-1927) must have spoken of her… so maybe, my grandmother, Ola, always liked the name; mama never even knew knew who her great-grandmother was until I discovered her.

1930 was the beginning of the great depression… my grandparents were married in 1923, and their son, Edgar “Leroy” McKinley was born in 1924… and six years later my mother was born. Like my mother always says… “I was born in a log tenant cabin on a straw mattress”… a mattress her mother had sewn… a mattress that my grandfather, Edgar Thomas McKinley, often took afternoon naps on in the hallway. Mama remembers how he’d come in from working under the hot sun, and take a nap after lunch before returning to plowing. Their tenant house was rented from the local doctor; he also sharecropped the land for Dr. Lewis.

The ten years mama lived in that log cabin, she grew up very close to Dr. Lewis’ son, Kendrick… they were more like brother and sister, being close in age. They played and attended school together… but later lost touch as they grew up and married.

Mama’s brother, Leroy, was six years older than she… and like all older brothers… he often shooed her away. He did play more with her as she got older… even getting into trouble together. Once the parents left him to watch her when she was sick… as they  needed to work in the field. Maybe he thought he was doing good by giving her the tonic that his mother had made for colds… she ended up tipsy by the time her parents came back to the house. I think he took a visit to the woodshed with my grandfather that afternoon… they felt he should have known better than to have given her so much.

My grandfather often drove the family over on Sunday’s to visit his parents in White Plains… usually stopping on the way for grandmama to visit  the older woman who sold roots and herbs… she lived on the back dirt road they took. Even today, when we drive on that same dirt back road, mama will look over and talk about going to the root doctor with her parents. People in that time didn’t rely or trust modern medicine… they relied more on medicinal herbs they made. Alongside that red-clay dirt road was also a creek… in which granddaddy often nudged the horse through to wet the wheels… dirt roads were dusty in the summer! Mama usually laughs when we pass the creek… remembering how she’d jump off the back seat of the wagon to walk a bit… and how her father would put the horse into a faster trot… making her run to catch up. My grandfather had a dry sense of humor… and loved to chuckle at someone else’s expense.

Grandmama wasn’t spared from his dry humor either… she’d walk by, and if he had just struck a match for his cigarette… he’d stick it to her leg just to see her jump. She’d yell out… and he’d give a chuckle. He loved her immensely, but that never stopped him from being the jokester. His grandfather, Joseph T. Sharp, often called him and his brother, Joe, the “limbcats of the devil“. When my gggrandfather Sharp would try and nap in his favorite old chair on the porch… two devil boys, Edgar and Joe… would sneak up, strike a match and stick it in his shoe… giving him a hotfoot. Good thing grandpa Sharp wasn’t able to chase after them… and I bet they took off fast for the woods. (I researched that phrase, “limb cats of the devil”, and came up with nothing! I might assume, he meant arm cats of the devil?) My mother has said so many expressions through the years, I actually wrote a blog post on it…. and you can check it out over HERE!

Back to 1930….

  • The 1930 Census on April 1st listed a count of 123,202,624 people… an increase of 16.2%: It was soon increased by one more on April 6th when my grandmother gave birth on that straw mattress in the hallway of their log cabin… attended by the midwife, Mrs. Credille. and Dr. Lewis.
  • 1930: I don’t think many had refrigerators in 1930, but Clarence Birdseye patented a quick freezing process and frozen food was invented: My grandfather kept food cold either by lowering it into their well… usually he did this with the milk. Often on Sundays he’d buy a block of ice for Sunday “sweet tea” and keep it in a burlap bag under a sawdust pile that he always kept away from the house… because sawdust can get hot in the center and start a fire; she swears that the ice block stayed cold under there for days.
  • 1931: When the Moon Comes over the Mountain by Kate Smith became a No. 1 hit: Mama often talked about that song… it must have been popular for years as she said after they had their first television set in the 50;s she remembered seeing Kate Smith sing it… and how everyone would want to come over to see her sing.
  • 1931: Construction was completed on the Empire State Building in New York City: Living in Georgia in the 1930’s… they probably never gave a thought to the state of New York; even myself growing up, New York City seemed so far away, I think I thought only gangsters lived there… wonder how or why I thought that?
  • 1932: Democratic challenger, Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover… becoming the 32nd President: My grandfather loved to talk politics… he always voted, and I’m sure he voted Democrat, as most farmers did. It was a completely different political world at that time compared to today. Saturday afternoons were often spent talking politics at Jarards’ gas station… seeing who could talk the loudest! I’m told those were loud debates… and sometimes even fists flew… wonder if the “law” was ever called? 
  • 1933: The World’s Fair opened in Chicago, Illinois: Being my mother grew up on a small southern farm, and didn’t even have a radio until the middle 40’s, I’m sure they never even heard about this event.
  • 1933: The 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed… ending prohibition, which began in 1920: Now that’s one thing my mother’s father, Edgar McKinley probably paid attention to. They lived in a dry county, and whenever visiting his brother, who lived in a wet county… he stopped to buy bonded whisky. I announced to the family one Sunday afternoon that granddaddy had stopped to buy “frisky” today! Small children always tell the truth… probably last time he stopped at the liquor store with me in the car. Granddaddy was a wheeler and dealer… making money in many ways… and reselling whiskey in smaller bottles was another way.  Mama remembers the law coming a few times… always in the middle of the night… but no matter where they looked, they never found his stash! Mama never knew the exact location, but surmised later on in life that it had to have been hidden in the barns somewhere… probably under the corn crib… as whenever company came for Sunday dinner, the men would walk up to the barns, and walk a little wobbly on the way back!
  • 1934: The Masters Golf Tournament was held for the first time at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia… and still being played there today, 85 years later. Even though this was held in Georgia… a small country girl probably never even heard of golf… and I don’t think Nancy Drew had played golf yet in any of her stories.
  • 1935: The greatest hitter in the history of baseball, Babe Ruth, retired: My mother was only five years old, but had a nine year old brother Leroy, who loved to play baseball and was very good at it. When he practised at home, he probably had mama chasing the balls. I’m sure Leroy knew all about Babe Ruth!
  • 1936: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell was published: My mother was now six years old, and I assume in first grade. As Margaret Mitchell was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia… hopefully it was talked about in school.
  • 1937: The German “Hindenburg” airship bursts into flames while mooring at Lakehurst, N.J… thirty five people died: Whenever granddaddy and the family went over to his parents on saturday night, they listed to his radio… they might have all gathered around the radio listening to this news. I’m told that the first radio my grandfather had was that very one from his father… who upgraded to one of the newer upright wooden models. I have the older Philco upright radio that belonged to my father’s parents… we had it restored last year and often listen to it in the morning.
  • 1937: The Golden Gate Bridge opened for pedestrians and cars: I’m sure California seemed just as far away to them as New York did. Having no television, they probably had no idea of the size, even if they did hear about it. Unless you see an actual picture, it’s hard to sometimes visualize or even be interested.
  • 1938: The National Minimum Wage was signed into law establishing a minimum wage of $0.25 an hour: My first hourly wage when I was age 16 was around a dollar and change in 1968… when I went back to work in 1981, it had only increased to $3.31 and I was at $19.96 in 2017 when I retired. Now today in 2019, there is a big push for the minimum wage to rise to $15 an hour; at present, Ct. is $10.10 an hour.
  • 1938: Orson Well’s famous, War of the Worlds radio drama, which included the fake news of a Martian invasion on earth was broadcasted over the waves. My mother was eight years old… even though she doesn’t remember it, she might have heard it on the radio or heard about it at school. Many people actually panicked when they first heard it on the radio!
  • 1939: The New York City World’s Fair opened and remained there for two years… attracting over 45 million people: I remember as a young child hearing about the one that opened again there in 1964-65… wishing we could go, but New York seemed so very far away from me… and thinking… how would we even get there?
  • 1939: Mama began to read Nancy Drew at around nine years old… and soon wanted to grow up and become a detective just like Nancy. Gone with the Wind premiered in the movies… mama didn’t remember going to see it.
  • 1940: The great depression was beginning to now ease and opportunities soon arose in helping families to now own instead of rent.
  • 1940: My grandfather bought a farm through a government subsidized program… they moved from a rented tenement house and sharecropping to now living in a farmhouse they would soon own. Mama was now 10 years old.

Cost of Living 1930 vs the change in 1940….

  • Average Cost of a new house: $3,920.00: I think granddaddy paid far less than this for his entire farm… including a farmhouse and two barns.
  • Cost of a gallon of Gas 11 cents: Even though it was cheap, they didn’t travel long distances in those days even if they had a car. People were still traveling long distance by train.  
  • A new Radio cost $16.95: This was quite high at that time, and not everyone even owned one. Mama’s grandfather had one before they did… and they often went over to his house on Saturday nights to listen. She remembers listening to Minnie Pearl and wondering… if she looked in the back of the radio, would she be able to see her?
  • Average Price for a new car $850.00: Granddaddy only bought used, but he eventually bought a new flat head Ford about 1954. I have so many memories of riding in that car with granddaddy to town on Saturday afternoons.
  • Hoover Vacuum cost $52.50: My grandmother never had a vacuum cleaner, she swept her house… usually with brooms she made. Mama remembers her mother making brooms with broom-straw… and making some of the best brooms she ever saw. Not only did they sweep their houses with them, they swept the yard free of sticks and stones. no one had grass lawns at that time… they didn’t want grass growing in their yards.
  • Campbell’s Tomato Soup 25 cents for 3 cans: My grandparents grew all their vegetables and grandmamma canned everything for the winter. There was always more canned food than they could even use… grandmama enjoyed canning; whenever visiting family… they always took canned vegetables. One of the first visits from the local county office, was a woman who came to teach grandmamma how to can. No matter how hard my grandfather tried telling this woman that she knew all about canning and how to use a pressure cooker… the woman continued on and on in her speech.. continuing to hold her manual and talk… it was to no avail; he finally gave up and left the kitchen. It wasn’t long after when he heard a big noise from the kitchen and found corn all over the ceiling. He took one look at the county woman, and she ran out the door… probably because granddaddy yelled a few choice words she might not have heard before. She never returned! He had tried nicely to tell her that grandmamma knew about canning and how to use a pressure cooker… undoubtedly, she didn’t!
  • Chewing Gum 12 cents for 3: Candy was a luxury when mama was young; silverbells (kisses) were always her favorite. At Christmas, their treat was usually only fruit and candy. Grandaddy enjoyed teasing mama on Christmas Eve by saying he didn’t buy them anything… but later he’d return from the barn with a box full of candy, fruit and nuts… with a grin on his face.
  • Flour 25 cents 5 Pound bag: My grandparents never had to buy flour at the store, as he grew his own wheat… taking it to the mill to be ground into flour. Mama always enjoyed accompanying her father to the mill on those wagon trips. When he went to the Bowden Mill, she’d spend the afternoon fishing on the big rocks there along the water. The owner always gave her a hook and string… and she kept herself busy all afternoon.
  • Fresh Chickens 55 cents per pound: This was one food item my grandparents never had to buy… there were always enough chickens running around the yard to pick from. Mama had a funny chicken story… “There was one rooster with a crooked neck, known as “Limber Neck” in the yard… who constantly pecked and bothered the other chickens to the point that one day her father grabbed him up by the neck, taking him back behind the barn… throwing him against a tree. It was said he was gone and would never return! The next day, that same rooster, “Limber Neck” appeared back in the yard, with the straightest neck, and behaving as a perfect gentleman with the ladies.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my stroll through the 1930’s with my mother, and the first ten years of her life. There is so many family tidbits of family history that can’t necessarily be written as a story… but it can be gathered for a stroll through time.

Take a “stroll” through time in your family lines.. and do send me a link …  I’d so enjoy reading your stroll through time!signature-blog-card

To read more Family Stories… click HERE.

© 2019, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved


About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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5 Responses to Family Stories: 1930 Stroll… Mama was born

  1. Love what you’ve researched and mixed with family stories here. Gives quite a good picture of the times and the family. I’ll try something similar on my mother’s nostalgia blog. She was born in 1924.
    By the way, I see sewing machine needle threaders on Amazon that you might want to try: Dritz 253 Machine Needle Inserter & Threader. Apparently, if you watch a YouTube video, it helps in using it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I need to check out s needle threader. Always forget about it until I need it! Yes do Stroll through the ‘20’s with your mom’s life. It was fun to add events that fit in with tidbits I knew of family history.



    Liked by 1 person

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