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Child of Great Depression knows what hardship is like

Recent financial upheavals have people whispering the "D" word.

And there are people in Buffalo who remember the Great Depression -- like John Eldon Greer who went on to teach in the Orchard Park School system for more than three decades.

Greer recalls people salvaging food, including potato peelings, from the garbage cans.

"Soup lines were a common sight," he said.

During the 1930s, Greer and his friends heard "our parents give nightly reports of whose father was out of work and which business had ceased to exist."

Greer serves up memories of these years in a memoir, "Depression Era Kids." He describes his parents making a home in a crowded West Side flat that they rented for their extended family of eight.

His father, Robert, a printer, learned to barter for milk and bread. Pay in cash became pay in kind.

The Greers "always had bread and milk, if nothing else, and believe me, there often was not much else."

He recalled that his dad could only give his mother $3 for the weekly groceries.

"I remember her weeping," he recounts, " 'Bob, I just can't do it on $3, I can't.' "

The poor of Buffalo during the Great Depression learned to make do with what they had at hand.

Are we in a new depression?

". . . We are beset by another financial crunch, variously referred to as a business downturn, a stock market correction or a recession," he said. "Time will tell if we're already in a depression; I'd hope that we're better protected from utter collapse today, than we were in the '30s, when protections were installed.

"The Great Depression, this worldwide financial panic, was precipitated by the crash of the United States stock market in October 1929. It was followed by similar collapses in Europe," said Greer, who earned degrees from Buffalo State College and the University of Buffalo.

"International bankruptcies and widespread unemployment brought commerce to a halt," he said. "World trade all but dried up when tariffs were imposed by one country to protect it from other countries.

"During the Roosevelt administration of the '30s, recovery was helped by a program of social reform and economic stimulation," he said.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring?

e-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.comOr write to: Louise Continelli,The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 142401

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