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Looking to the Past to Bring a Brighter Future

Posted on May 20th, 2020
Reflecting back on the past can sometimes help us understand our present and future. We are all encountering different, yet similar struggles during this stressful time. With the COVID-19 crisis we are experiencing now, it has encouraged families to take a step back and consider new ways of living. Many parents have had to learn to work from home while homeschooling their children. It can be a struggle at times, but there are positive factors in every situation.  Let’s take a look at some previous challenging experiences in our nation’s history, not to compare to today, but to look for sparks of hope in finding silver linings during this time.

The Great Depression was a worldwide economic disaster. It began in the United States when the stock market crashed in 1929. The global economy drastically declined, with the gross domestic product dropping fifteen percent, and international trade decreasing to fifty percent. Almost everyone was affected by the economic disaster. Tax revenue, income, and prices dropped significantly, while unemployment increased by twenty to thirty percent.

Interior of Alpena Depot.

Interior of Alpena Depot. Photo Courtesy: Alpena Library and Ron Cady.

A somewhat similar situation can be witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 30 million Americans have signed up for unemployment so far. Many businesses are temporarily closed down, and people are staying inside and practicing social distancing. Luckily, many of us are able to work from home. During the Great Depression, citizens did not have the option of working from their computers and cell phones, opportunities that can easily be taken for granted today.

Many restaurants across the world are closed down due to the pandemic. Some families have had the opportunity to start cooking at home. During the twentieth century, everything was made from scratch. There were not pre-made frozen Hungry Man dinners, or prepared salad bowls, or rotisserie chickens that you quickly pick-up from the supermarket. In fact, most people didn’t have refrigerators because it was too expensive to keep them running.

During the Great Depression, families worked together as a team to bring in an income and maintain a household.

Children would collect wood from forests and beaches, so they could be sold or used as firewood. Women were oftentimes cooking or cleaning, while men were out hunting and fishing. Extended families, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins oftentimes moved in together, so it was easier for everyone to survive during those trying times. Younger generations took care of the older generations, and the older generations taught the younger generations. Skills were passed down from family members, such as sewing, cooking, and gardening.

In the twentieth century, many families mended their own clothing because it was too expensive to buy new clothes at a store. In earlier years, it was more often that women were seamstresses. They learned how to alter clothing before throwing something away and buying new ones.

In the 1930’s board games, such as Scrabble and Monopoly were invented. During the Great Depression, many people stayed at home and entertained themselves and their families by playing games. Televisions were not a common household item during that time period.

Second Avenue in the 1930's.

Second Avenue in the 1930s. Photo Courtesy: Don Harrison.

According to a 2019 article by USA Today, the average American family spends roughly $18,000 a year on non-essentials. Now, people are learning to be more frugal and spend less. During the Great Depression, if a family owned a cow and had a garden, they were seen as more wealthy.

Due to COVID-19 stay at home orders, families are spending more quality time together and participating in group activities, such as going outside and playing games.

Research has shown that children who spend more time with their parents are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better communication skills, and make positive life choices.

Tragic events oftentimes bring people together; strengthening bonds, building resiliency, and opening the door for innovation and growth. Here is a round-up of some ideas on how to find silver linings during this time:

  • If you are practicing social distancing with family or loved ones, find new ways to work together as a team.
  • If you are struggling mentally and emotionally during this time, it may help by keeping a journal and listing three good things you are grateful for each day.
  • Take note of positive changes due to this experience like more time with family, opportunities to sleep in, or a chance to slow down and re-evaluate your life or career.
  • Make a plan for how you want to do things differently as the world moves on from this experience.

One thing we have learned by reviewing our collective history is that we can be grateful for what we have today, not taking anything for granted. Whether it is just another normal day for you or a new kind of normal, we invite you to look for small joys as reminders that this too, shall pass.

Cover photo courtesy: Alpena County Library

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