Irene Gaucher was born in 1921. Growing up in Northborough, MA, Mrs. Gaucher’s family had the opportunity to use their spare room as a sweatshop for housewives who needed to make some money. Many of her family members lost their homes during the Depression and moved in to their twelve-room house. In later Depression years, the family was forced to sell their house for $500.
This is Meaghan Sullivan and Meaghan Monahan and we are interviewing ms Irene Gaucher: May 8th, 2008 for a Wayland High School History Project. Please state your name
Mrs. Gaucher: Irene Gaucher:
Q: How old were you in 1929?
Mrs. Gaucher: Eight years old
Q: Where did you live during the Depression years?
Mrs. Gaucher: I lived on Hudson Street in Northborough,
Q: What were your parents’ names?
Mrs. Gaucher: My parents name were Margret, for my mother, my father’s name was Francis Supernaught.
Q: And what did they do for work, when you were small?
Mrs. Gaucher: My father worked in the factory that was next door and he also worked in a bakery and he delivered food, donuts to Springfield. And on his way home he’d take the cold, day old stuff and he’d stop off at school, in Fistdale, and all the kids would be lined up to get donuts, they’d be still soft enough for them to eat.
Q: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs. Gaucher: One brother.
Q: What was his name?
Mrs. Gaucher: Francis.
Q: How was your mother’s role as a homemaker impacted by the Depression, if at all?
Mrs. Gaucher: Well mother stayed home, and she had a job, but in those days if you had a spare room there was a silk factory in Northborough that you could get the old silken bales, they would deliver it to you, and you’d cut it off and you would lay the silk strips, lay it down, and the women used to all come in and work. And they probably made 50 cents a day; if they made it that much cutting knots off of the silk. And then they took the cloth part of the silk and made clothes for their kids.
Q: What did you eat as a child?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh. I never was without because we had an uncle that lived with us and he worked on a farm with a lot pigs and he used to slaughter the pigs so we had a lot of pork and a lot of cabbage.
Q: Did you eat any premade foods? Or was it all home made?
Mrs. Gaucher: Everything was homemade. We had no fancy foods the way the kids can today go to the market and pick up food all made. We didn’t have that.
Q: When you went to the store, what kind of things did you always want to buy?
Mrs. Gaucher: I always wanted to buy candy. But it wasn’t allowed.
Q: What was your favorite?
Mrs. Gaucher: My favorite candy? Fudge.
Q: Me too!
Q: And how much was the average cost of candy back then?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh you could get it for, well, they had penny candy and we were allowed to have penny candy and that was all that we had.
Q: Did you grow any food?
Mrs. Gaucher: We had a garden, we had tomatoes, and beans, and we had a chicken farm.
Q: Did you can any of it?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh yes, a lot of it was canned. That was our winter food.
Q: Well I know your family had a car, but how did that impact your life, having a car during the time?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh we had an old open toe ring car, and if you went out in the car in the weather you had an old bearskin robe they’d threw over in the back with you and you kept warm under that. There was no such thing as heaters or air conditioning in cars,
Q: How would you compare the typical clothing back then to today?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh. Everything we had was homemade and my father would tap our shoes, put soles on our shoes for us. He had [a lass] and they used to have nails and hammer and he used to put a new leather sole on and that’s how we went around.
Q: Did you wear dresses or trousers?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh! We wore dresses, there is a man who came around selling dresses for 25 cents a piece out of a truck and I had 2 of them. I was lucky.
Q: What are your earliest memories of the hard times of the 1930s?
Mrs. Gaucher: The earliest moments of the hard times was when I saw peoples’ homes and apartments, they would take the furniture out of the thing and put it out on the street. And people had no homes; everything was out on the street. Because they couldn’t pay a rent of $10 a month.
Q: How did you spend most of your time as a kid of the era?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh we played a lot outdoors. We went swimming, we went fishing and we made our own fun. We built tents and things like that out of blankets and a lot of things that we enjoyed.
Q: Did you ever go to the circus or to carnivals?
Mrs. Gaucher: Ah no. But the circus did come to Worcester and we were in my Aunt’s house and the circus had the parade right in front of the house so we saw what the animals looked like.
Q: What were the movies like?
Mrs. Gaucher: Movies, we went to the movies, it was 10 cents to go to the movies and we had like “Rin Tin Tin” I remember going to see, oh what’s his name? Gene Autry. Cowboy movies, that was all they had. And of course we weren’t allowed to go to the other movies because those were the children’s movies in those days.
Q: Did you have any favorite radio shows?
Mrs. Gaucher: Ooooh. We didn’t have a radio. We had crystal sets and we could play with the crystal. My uncle, or great uncle would make one for all the kids and we all had a head piece to go with the crystal and we’ pick on the crystal and we would find a station and that would be the station you kept on and if you moved it a little you lost your station.
Q: Do you remember the sports of the era?
Mrs. Gaucher: The sports?
Q: Which were popular?
Mrs. Gaucher: The boys used to play football, I can remember that.
Q: Did the girls ever play sports?
Mrs. Gaucher: We played softball.
Q: On an average day, what sorts of things would you do as a kid?
Mrs. Gaucher We went to school and we went to school in a school with three grades in one room and we had the same teacher for 4 or 5 years. We’d go right on until the 6th grade up there and then we would go to the center school of town.
Q: What chores or responsibilities did you have growing up?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh I had a lot of them. I had to wash dishes, which I hate today [laugh] and we had to make our beds and anything that our mother couldn’t do, we had to do it, we had to clean it.
Q: Do you recall was your first income was for your first job?
Mrs. Gaucher: My first job, I took care of an old lady for 50 cents a day. That was my first job.
Q: What would you do?
Mrs. Gaucher: She was legally blind and she stayed in her house all of the time and she needed someone to cook for her and clean her house. I’d go down at 7 in the morning and be there ‘til 6 at night. For 50 c a day. That was big money in those days. We had enough to go roller skating.
Q: How were other members of your family affected by the Great Depression?
Mrs. Gaucher: Well a lot of them lost their jobs and they moved in with us. Because we had a 12 room house.
Q: Do you have any recollections of people in tough circumstances? Do you remember any people in particular that had it hard?
Mrs. Gaucher: Well I guess everybody had it hard. There was one family that had 13 kids. They had it hard. There were a lot of families, and there were big families. Everybody stayed home; kids weren’t allowed to run all around like they do today. So we didn’t have all of those radios and I-pods and what nots you kids have.
Q: How do you recall Franklin Roosevelt?
Mrs. Gaucher: Franklin Roosevelt. The first time I remember him, he was going to Northborough and all the kids were allowed to walk up about a mile and a half to the center of town to go watch him go through the town and that’s how I remember him and I remember a big, long cigarette holder he had in his hands and he had an open car and he was riding in that, that’s how I remember him.
Q: Do you remember Eleanor Roosevelt?
Mrs. Gaucher: She wasn’t with him; I do remember her. She was long after the Franklin died.
Q: Did you think fondly of them?
Mrs. Gaucher: Everybody did. Yeah, everybody thought a lot of Franklin Roosevelt.
Q: Did you ever see a Hooverville?
Mrs. Gaucher: A “Who”?
Q: A town of homeless people?
Mrs. Gaucher: No, I never did saw any of that.
Q: Did you parents think anything of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program?
Mrs. Gaucher: As far as I know they were all, it was a job, it was work that they had. Everybody had a job after Roosevelt came in, and they got work to feed their families. In fact I have a picture of the WPA [See photos below from photo album] in here, that people used, somebody went and snapped a picture of all the men working, hanging around.
Q: One famous event was the New York World’s Fair, which was titled the “world of tomorrow”. Do you remember this?
Mrs. Gaucher: This first new World’s Fair I don’t remember. The first one I do remember anything about was around 1938 when it was the Chicago’s World Fair. I remember someone going to it, and that’s it.
Q: While the country was still in the Depression do you recall learning about Hitler’s rise in Germany or the Japanese military advances in Asia?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh yes. Yes I did. We were all sitting around a radio in those days and that’s how we found out that Hitler was invading all those countries over there and everybody starting hoarding sugar right away because they knew that sugar was going to be down just like it was in the first world war, they didn’t have any sugar.
Q: Did you ever go to any drive in theaters?
Mrs. Gaucher: I went to…yeah I think I did. One or two, the family stuck everyone in the car and we would then go to the movies.
Q; Do you remember the hurricane of ’38?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes I do, that was very bad. I was on my way home from school, I was in junior high I think or high school, I don’t remember which year, eight grade I think, yeah, it was junior high, in 7th I think when it happened and it came up and my mother said everybody get into a car. We had an old car out back and she put the cats and the dogs, everybody in the car; it was the only protection we had from falling trees. A lot of people were killed on the side streets. I remember a barn, the roof being picked right up and knocked off.
Q: What were the most popular restaurants of the time?
Mrs. Gaucher: It wasn’t a restaurant, it’s [gone] now, I don’t know what it is now, but it used to be Solomon’s Pond Grill. But we were able to go to that grill thing and they had ice creams. Mr. Lemay had ice cream thing and everyone went up for ice cream. That’s about the only restaurant that I can remember except for here in Marlborough they had a chicken, a fried chicken place. My father built it for Mrs. Walker, her family and that was the first time I ever went to a real restaurant.
Q: Did you ever go on family vacations?
Mrs. Gaucher: Well, with us a vacation was every weekend. We went to my uncle’s in Fistdale. Everybody. We were always there and then I went I could stay with them for a week and then my brother would take his turn and stay with them.
Q: What sort of things did you do there?
Mrs. Gaucher: [Laugh] No too much. We’d go swimming and that was about it, they had a pond right in their home and we used to go swimming.
Q: Did you ever play monopoly?
Mrs. Gaucher: We didn’t have monopoly in those days.
Q: What kind of games did you play?
Mrs. Gaucher: Dominoes and Old Maids, I remember the cards, we had the Old Maid cards, and I don’t remember too many of those kinds of games. Girls played with dolls or whatever they had to play with.
Q: Did you have any household pets?
Mrs. Gaucher: Did we? Yes we had cats and we had dogs.
Q: How many?
Mrs. Gaucher: We must have had two or three cats and one dog. He was a beagle and he got so that no one could stand him and we had to get rid of him. He used to bark all the time, the neighbors didn’t like it.
Q: Do you have any fun stories that you would like to tell? Do you have any one event that you remember or that made an impression?
Mrs. Gaucher: No, not really.
Q: Did you attend church every Sunday?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes we had to go to church every Sunday and we had to walk to church. We walked a mile up and a mile back.
Q: How are kids different today than in your child hood?
Mrs. Gaucher: Kids today have got too much. Really too much. And some of them are very very fresh. We weren’t allowed to be. If we were fresh to anybody the neighbors could, if you were fresh, the neighbor could spank you.
Mrs. Gaucher: Today, the neighbor would go to jail for touching another child that wasn’t his.
Q: What your neighborhood very close? Did you help each other out?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh yes, everybody helped one another out. Yeah, there was always somebody helping somebody else or doing something for them.
Q: Is there any way that kids today are the same as kids back or do you feel we have changed too much.
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh well, they played rough, some of them did and some of them didn’t. Girls had to stay more or less to ho me. Boys could go out and go. Well I don’t know what they did and where they did all the time, but they used to break their noses and arms [chuckle]
Q: Do you feel that the Depression brought your family closer together?
Mrs. Gaucher: Very much. It kept all families together. Our family was always very close because even after the Depression on a Saturday night my grandmother’s house was full of kids, all the grandkids and all her kids would be there. And Sunday morning, if they stayed over, they all had to get up and walk to church. And my grandmother was very strict on that. She was brought up by the sisters of Saint Ann up in Canada. She was an orphan so she almost became a nun. I work with the nuns now, the same order. I still work for them.
Q: Do you remember seeing the Wizard of Oz for the first time?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes I do, saw it at the Marlborough Theater back in the 30s, late 30s. Ten cents to go in for the movie.
Q: What about Gone with the Wind?
Mrs. Gaucher: Gone with the Wind was a 1938 movie and I think that everybody in the world saw that movie.
Q: Which one did you like better?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh, Gone with the Wind, I still like that.
Q: What was the average age to get married?
Mrs. Gaucher: I think the average age people used to get married at was around 25, they were late; they didn’t marry off real young. Some people got married young, some didn’t.
Q: Did people start having less children in the Great Depression?
Mrs. Gaucher: No, I think that they had just as many. They all took care of their kids; every one had a lot of children. Some of them had 13, two families had one 12 and one 13 in our neighborhood. That’s a lot of kids; we had a lot of kids to play with [laugh].
Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about how badly the economy is doing these days. Oil prices are high; food prices are up, what are the lessons that we should have learned from the Great Depression that we didn’t?
Mrs. Gaucher: What could we have learned? That I don’t know. But we didn’t have, everyone didn’t have two or three cars, using all the gas and oil. We had wood stoves in our homes and coal stoves, that’s how we heated our homes. We had refrigerators, some of us, some had no refrigerators. When I grew up the first part of my childhood we had what they call an icebox. And you wanted to get ice you put a card in the window and a man came by and he stopped and brought inside a big hunk of ice and slide it in and that cost you a quarter. And that would last you a week, that big hunk of ice. And later on we had electricity put in the house then we had a refrigerator with a, I don’t know if you’ve seen one, with a big ring on the top. That was the cooling part of the refrigerator. It had no freezer, but it was just…
Q: Did you have any dreams or ambitions as a child?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yeah, I wanted to be a nurse when I was younger and then I wanted to be nun later on. Neither one of them worked out.
Q: What did you end up doing?
Mrs. Gaucher: Electrical Engineering.
Q: Who was your childhood hero?
Mrs. Gaucher: We didn’t have no heroes. There was nobody. If we liked somebody we would call him our hero, but that was it. There was no special heroes, nothing like they have today, baseball heroes and so.
Q: Do you remember any of the great construction projects?
Mrs. Gaucher: I remember them building Route 20 and they took up all the old trolley car track and they were all picked up and sent for the war effort. And they started building Route 20; they moved Route 20 over to another side of the town about a half-mile apart. And all the houses in that part of Northborough, that’s where the people use to all congregate. But on the new part, we were still on Route 20; it was the old rt. 20 but a lot wider, it used to only be two cars wide.
Q: Do you remember hearing about the building of the Empire State Building?
Mrs. Gaucher: I’m not that old [laughter]… the Empire State building, I don’t remember that, but I’ve been on it, in it, been up on the top.
Q: Did you ever do anything with the community; did you ever have a community get together?
Mrs. Gaucher: Well they use to have what they call block parties. Everybody would bring food and they would shut off part of the street, and there would be a dance. The older people they would go down to Salmon Pond, go down to the dance hall.
Mrs. Gaucher: I think it was, oh he’s dead now, he was a singer, Bing Crosby, we use to love to listen to him; that was on our new radio.
Q: Could we see some of your pictures?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes you can
Q: You said you had a picture of the WPA?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes it’s in here some place, I got a quick look at it today. See how they dressed in their swimming suits? [Laughter] Oh here’s the WPA. All the men worked and got together… Here’s my cousin Agnes, she’s the only one I got left now… [Lists off different family members]
Q: And you all lived together?
Mrs. Gaucher: No, they all lived in the western part of the state. We didn’t live with them but that’s where I use to go for my vacations… This here is a WPA project where they were building, getting water to make a dam… This is the way a factory looked like in those days; a man had big belts around him all over the place… These are all pictures of the way they use to dress. My mother made all her clothes and hats and everything. That’s my mother again; I wouldn’t be caught dead in that. [Laughter] There she has a fur piece on her collar from another hat she took it off. There she is again, see the shoes they wore? They had laces on them that went right up to their ankles. That’s M a when she had her swimsuit on, stockings you went swimming with… That’s my mother with her hair way down here [Points to waist]. You know something, they still have her hair; my son has it. They cut it off, she had my aunt Eva tie her hair up, she braided it first, and she cut it off.
Q: Did a lot of girls where their hair long?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes, they had hair that was way down here [Points to waist].
Q: Was that the popular style?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yeah. Here they worked out helping people, right before the Depression, they didn’t wear Red Cross hats in those days. Oh there’s one of our cowboys, I don’t even remember what his name was, [flips over photo] Jack Dalton. You could send away and they would send you a picture… That’s ma in her bathing suit again. This is them on their sailboat in Rhode Island, they were always on it.
Q: Going fishing or leisurely?
Mrs. Gaucher: No it was when my mother was a teenager right before the Depression. There’s my mom with her hair all up on her head. How would you like to go swimming, I’d drown in that [laughter]. There’s another picture with my mom and aunt on the boat, the whole family. Oh there’s the old “Jalopy” [Points to car]… That’s my grandmother, the one who was brought up by the nuns in the orphanage. Oh this was something that was different; they carried a frame to put their hat in so it wouldn’t get broken [laughter]… There’s that old car again, my mother standing up on it, on the running board. This is the beginning of the horse we had on the farm. It must have been summer time, there’s my mother in a cotton dress, look at all the ruffles. The clothing then was all fancy with ruffles…
Q: Do you remember how much a camera that took all these pictures would cost?
Mrs. Gaucher: Oh I should have brought the camera; I still have the camera that took all these pictures. It was a pinhole camera; they used to have to hold it down like this and hold the light and flip the little button down on the side. I still have the camera. Here’s my aunt with her big hats, no wonder she didn’t knock his eyes out with it [Laughter]… There’s my aunt holding me, I think it was. She was twenty years and a day older than I was. She cut her hair and shortened it, she use to have great big long banana curls… That was an old washing machine my mother had, and they made a flower pit out of it. That was Depression days. This is after we lost our house, my father started building, she went and took a picture of her on the thing. We lost that big 12-room house over $500. See how bad it was in those days, $500 was like one million to them.
Q: What did you do after you lost the house?
Mrs. Gaucher: We went out and built another house, bought land some place else… That’s my brother and one of the dogs I brought home. [Laughter] I was like your mother, taking animals home all the time. This was in front of the garden, the big strawberry bed we had. You’ll see my aunts out there picking strawberries. There’s another dog I brought home [laughter] I was like your mother I’m telling you, bring home all the animals. This was getting better; the war was coming on, getting jobs. My folks always dressed nice… We never did get that house all completed.
Q: Where was it?
Mrs. Gaucher: Up in Northborough, we had a fire and it burned, right after the hurricane, it burned everything down. Those are the trees that broke, that tree broke right in half, it was sitting right on the edge of it… This is an old “chug a lug” we called it [a car], everybody learned to drive on it, even me [laughter].
Q: Wow, how did you fit so many people in the car?
Mrs. Gaucher: Well it was a seat there, and then it was like a truck, they built a truck in the back. The wheels were great big high; the wheels must have stood up this high [about 3 feet]. That’s me and my father chopping wood of one of the trees that fell down. Here’s another one of the dogs I took home. But they gave it away to the old man across the street, because he liked the dog.
Q: Did a lot of people graduate from school?
Mrs. Gaucher: That was my cousin, when he graduated I think there was about thirty in the graduating class. That was in the 30’s. When I graduated I only had about twenty-one in my class.
Q: Did a lot of people drop out?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yes, when they got to be sixteen they had to go to work… This is my old boyfriend. Now this is a WPA project right here, see the water coming it, going into this pond there like a reservoir.
Q: Why are these pictures blue?
Mrs. Gaucher: That’s how they printed them in those days, I don’t know why they printed them that color… Now that’s the way people went to work in those days, they built the dam part of it where they filtered the water I think.
Q: You said that was your old boyfriend, would you go on dates or would you…
Mrs. Gaucher: That was only in school; we weren’t allowed to go out. But we just called him my boyfriend… These are my school pictures…
Q: Is that your cat?
Mrs. Gaucher: Yeah, that’s one of them. Right up on top of the knob, that’s one of the cats we had. One of your neighbors used to go around with a horse, puts kids on him and take pictures… [Talking about her brother] I think that was one of his first jobs, he worked for Heirs Root Beer. Do they still have it? It was just like Coca-a-Cola. Heirs Root Beer had a big plant up in Worcester… Here’s my mother with some of her chickens. My mother took this coat, pulls it apart, washed it, and made me an Easter outfit out of it.
Q: Did she not want to wear the coat anymore?
Mrs. Gaucher: She knew I wanted an Easter outfit. It wasn’t easy; you couldn’t go to the store and buy things. You had to take things and make them over. Here’s my cousin in her wedding dress. I was in that wedding but they didn’t take pictures. In those days they didn’t take pictures of the kids in the wedding, just of the bride… That’s all the pictures.