Liliane Smith was born in 1915. She grew up in Jamaica Plain with her mother, father, and her seven brothers and sisters. She recalls her trips to the Franklin Park Zoo during the summer and how her brothers would try to anger the peacocks so their feathers would show. Mrs. Smith tells us that children in those days were not as protected as they are today. She was shocked when her great-granddaughter was frightened by a cashier in a supermarket because she was a stranger. Mrs. Smith’s family had a lot of respect for the Franklin Roosevelt and his wife for staying together for the sake of the country, despite their differences.
Q: This is AJ, Alex, and Julia and we are interviewing Mrs. Smith on May 10, 2008 for the Wayland High School History Project. Would you please state your name?
Mrs. Smith: Liliane M. Smith.
Q: How old were you in 1929?
Mrs. Smith: In 1929? Let me see. Well, depends on the year. Fourteen at the end of the year in 1929. Thirteen at the beginning of the school year I’m talking about.
Q: Where did you live during the Depression years?
Mrs. Smith: Jamaica Plain. Part of Boston. On Washington Street.
Q: What were your parents’ names and what did you do when you were small?
Mrs. Smith: Well mothers didn’t work in them days. They worked in the house period. And my father worked for the Eastern Advertising Company, which took care of all the advertising in the elevated train streetcars and stuff like that. And of course during the Depression I knew each week when he’d come home he would say “Another pay cut. Another pay cut.” And that would be it each week. But we got along fine. Next question?
Q: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs. Smith: I had two brothers and five sisters.
Q: How was your mother’s role as a homemaker impacted by the Depression, if at all?
Mrs. Smith: Mothers in that day had to make sure that any money she had lasted for the week.
Q: What did you eat as a child? Was it pre-made foods or was it all homemade?
Mrs. Smith: My mother would have a roast for Sunday—or meat for Sunday, which would have to last the week because money was scarce. But we had enough food. My mother made do with everything . . . she used to do the shopping. She had three grocery stores she went to, and we managed that way very well.
Q: When you went down to the store, what things did you want to buy and how much did they cost?
Mrs. Smith: Well, there weren’t the things in the store today that they had then. We had a lot of canned goods and fresh-farmed food was only during the season. That’s all. But as you know, food was very reasonable then. And we had three stores my mother patronized. She would take my brother’s car and do the shopping on a Saturday. We didn’t have to worry about leaving us at home while she did the shopping, but we did a lot of shopping at O’Connor’s and of course they combined with Keith and Ginter stores and made the First National stores. That was the beginning of the combining stores, or whatever you want to call it now. That was the food limit. Of course you know what the price of food was then because I already gave that to you, and what else can I say? We didn’t have the toys and everything that they have today. My mother used to save the labels from Connor’s store and you could turn them in and get some real nice things. Ball bearing earrings, roller skates, scooters with a break, sleds, and a number of other things that you could get without having to add money to it as long as you patronized the store. But during those years, we had two pairs of shoes growing up, which had to do: for Easter and the first day of school, and we made do with them. If they wore out, they went to the cobblers and they used to put soles on them, which is unheard of today because most of everybody wears sneakers. So go on now.
Q: Did you have a vegetable garden?
Mrs. Smith: Oh no. Nobody had vegetable gardens. We couldn’t. It wouldn’t do any good to have a vegetable garden then. When we went to my grandmother’s in the city of Taunton, that’s where we picked up a lot of our vegetables. She used—they had a nice garden there. We spent a lot of time there in the summertime. But also, we—do you want to know what we did for enjoyment? Every Saturday, we got a dime to go to the movies. And we saw a number of movies that had news, comics, and they had a serial,* which would go from one week to the next, and that would be our amusement. Also, my father had a secondhand car, and he had friends in Taunton that owned a cottage at the other side of Fall River, and we used to—we were there for two weeks because he had a vacation, and they paid them during a vacation, so we used to go clam digging, which you people never heard of and never did, and quahoggin’, which is a hard shell if you know what a quahog looks like and got them with the heel of our foot. But they were good times, and we lived on chowder. We didn’t have to buy any extra food or anything like that. We cooked fish and everything else. And that was the way we spent our times. But during the summer, we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. We used to go to Franklin Park Zoo, which is not like it is today. It was free—I think today you pay if I’m not mistaken, and there was a big field there. She’d give us our lunch and we’d go up there for the day, and we always enjoyed going to the zoo even though we saw the same things over and over again. The first place was the big birdcage, which was beautiful with the peacocks. When you got the peacock mad, it’s feathers would open up—beautiful feathers. And then we went into the birdhouse. And then from the birdhouse we would go over to the lions and the tigers and, well we did go to the elephants after the birdhouse. And the elephants, we enjoyed them too because they’re always different. And there was a hippopotamus there. Now they say they’re rather scarce, but they lived in the water mostly. And when it got to be four o’clock, we knew it was four o’clock—we didn’t have watches then, nobody had a watch unless it was a special occasion or something. And, when it got to be the elephant’s bath time, we knew it was time to go home. Four o’clock we went home. Because we weren’t too far from – it was about a ten-minute walk up a hill, that’s all. And that’s what we used to do, or we’d go up to Jamaica Pond—the bottomless pond that has no bottom. And nobody would dare to swim there because nobody would come out. And the Children’s Museum used to be there, which is now in the city of Boston. But we could do all those things and that was our enjoyment. And now, what else do you want to know?
Q: What was the typical clothing like?
Mrs. Smith: Clothing? [Laughs] Well, it was like today only they didn’t have short-short dresses or anything. There was no such thing as slacks or anything like that. Not at all. And nobody had short dresses or tight clothes or anything. It was just ordinary clothing without being—well nothing fashionable or anything like that. It’s just plain clothing that’s all. Everything looked nice. And people looked nice, too. And my father used to stop into Raymond’s: a famous store in Boston and buy a lot of our things on his way home from work. And they had some real nice clothes at Filene’s Basement, which was very noted for their bargains, too. But other than that, the clothes weren’t fitted or anything like that—not fitted at all. But they looked nice on everybody. Everybody had something different.
Q: Did your family have a car, and if so, how did it impact your life?
Mrs. Smith: Well, the car was of course a secondhand car because we didn’t have much money, but he knew somebody that had a car, and this car didn’t have any glass windows. They had what they called “Eisenglass.” And today, I guess it’s a form of plastic if you’re out driving in the rain or something like that. The car was a Rio. A real old Rio. I don’t know—he didn’t pay much for it because we didn’t have that kind of money, but it took us to where we had to go, and that would be that. I mean it was a good car. It’s really funny that today you don’t see any of them things you know. We did with the car—you know we enjoyed it. That took care of that. But we enjoyed the things that were around us. We didn’t go outside looking for anything different to do. Well, how else can I tell you? The only times we went out at night as kids was like Halloween—we would go out. Of course we had pumpkins then—we could put a lighted candle in. Today, no such thing. I mean it’s terrible not to be able to go out and enjoy things that way. And our Christmas tree in them days was just a tree with candles. Candles about, well just so high that we clipped on the Christmas tree, and that would be lit up. We used to string cranberries and popcorn on the tree before the lights came in, you know, the battery lights first. We didn’t have electricity for a while—it came along some time in the late ‘20s. That made it sort of interesting, too because electricity was new to us, but across the street from our house was a lamppost. Now the streetlights are altogether different. And when it go to be around five o’clock, the man would come with his little ladder and climb up and turn the light on, which we always enjoyed watching. And of course that went with the times. But that was long before the streetlights came in. Of course there was no traffic lights or anything like that. But we enjoyed everything.
Q: Do you remember any radio shows that you listened to?
Mrs. Smith: [Laughs] Oh yes! Well we didn’t have a radio then. Radios weren’t heard of. My father built a crystal radio set, which I believe Radioshack is selling today. I don’t know if they still do. And we got radio stations then. Only two radio stations and you couldn’t hear it unless you had the earphones on, so he used to split the earphones so we could take turns listening to it. And KDKA Pittsburgh—that was the main station, and WNAC, the Sheppard stores in Boston. Sheppard stores is long gone. And they were very interesting. Amos and Andy for one thing. They were the famous colored couple and they were very humorous. Those were the two things. Then came the radios with the tubes and my father built a couple of them. You’d get a tube set, or you’d get the tubes and you’d build your own radio. He was very handy like that. And we had a lot more . . . You didn’t get anything on the radio until nighttime. They had a lot of serial stories, and love stories, and things like that, and Just Plain Bill, and Mert and Marge, and all those serial stories you got. They were later. And then came the cabinet radios, you know, because we had one of them. But the shows came from the stores advertised. But there wasn’t too much there. They used to have cooking from different people that were on TV that would tell you how to cook this or that or whatever you wanted to do. But it was very interesting and we were satisfied with it because it made everything very good. There was also the Lucky Strike hour and they had a lot of music on then. A lot of music and nice stories that you would be interested in. What can I say? It was real nice that’s all.
Q: What were the movies like?
Mrs. Smith: The movies, well, there was Hal Roach movies, and they were sca—we didn’t have talking movies then you know? There were no talkies whatsoever. When the talking, they called the vitaphone, first came out, the only time you heard sound was at the end of a picture. The movies were very interesting. Everybody was going to the movies then. There was nothing else to do, but there were just stories. Lets see: a lot of cowboy stories like Tall Mix and Ken Maynard—a lot of stories like that. And they were good. He was the cowboy hero of the day then. And they used to have boardable shows. People were entertained with a boardable. But the movies, they had a little bit of everything. There was Clara Bow, the It Girl, and a number of other stars that are long gone—Mary Pickford. The sound, we didn’t have sound. It took a long time before the talkies came in then. They were interesting, but it sounded awful. Nothing like what today’s talking shows are. If you wanted to know what was going on in the movies, they would print it on the screen and then you would read from the screen, and you would know what they were talking about. And of course everybody knew how to read then. Today, they say that the kids don’t know how to read. I don’t know about that. [Chuckles] But that’s the way it was. It was really good. We enjoyed it. Hey for a dime, we got a lot for our money.
Q: Do you remember any sports of this era?
Mrs. Smith: At that time, there was nothing for children in the schools. No, no games or nothing. We went to the playground if we wanted to play. We had a large backyard. My brother and I used to play baseball a lot and I remember my grandson saying to me one day, “Oh look! Grandma can hit a ball!” I thought everybody knew how to hit a ball. But we played baseball in our own yard, and we had miniature golf sticks, that we could play miniature golf with and made hole in the back yard, but made sure that they were covered up so that nobody would fall in the holes. We used to go to the playground if you wanted to get into sports. There was no such thing as what they have today for schools. There was no such thing at all. But we were satisfied with it.
Q: What kind of music did you listen to?
Mrs. Smith: Well nothing really special. The music was, well how can I say what the music was? It was just like bands and things like that. All kinds of bands. I can’t think of the name of the bands though, but always, you know. The Lucky Strike had a good musical band on all the time. We’d wait for him. And, then there was—well just like that. It was real good. And a lot of the people that are gone—we enjoyed listening to them. And what can I say? My memory is going, too. [Laughs] But that’s obvious.
Q: Did you have any heroes in your life?
Mrs. Smith: No, not really. We just accepted everybody. There was nobody that anybody really said, “Oh I want this,” or “I want that,” or “I like him,” or “I want his picture.” There was no such—I mean we didn’t have it in our family. I don’t know what others did or not. We just said, “Oh, so-and-so is gonna be in the movies today. Can we go?” And the movies, they had “Pals night” where you could bring a pal for free at night only. And that was real good for people that didn’t have much money. And we didn’t have any money to splurge. There was no such thing as coming around and begging for money or getting notes in the mail saying, “send this,” or “send that.” Nothing like that at all.
Q: What was community life like back then?
Mrs. Smith: Well I think everybody knew one another then. If somebody was going by the street, everybody was friendly. I mean we knew our neighbors and we knew the people in the back, there was another street. We were on Washington Street, and then there was the next street over there parallel to us, and we knew the people on that street. Everybody was very friendly. When we wanted enjoyment, you didn’t go out looking for any fun. It was going to different houses and having fun, which was what we did. And we enjoyed that and it was good. Good clean fun. But we did everything. We would ride the elevator, the train at that time, to the subway for a dime. And if you didn’t go into the subway, you could ride for a nickel and go quite a ways. Everybody was friendly and if you saw them, you spoke to them and you knew mostly everybody even though it was—well it was a friendly place that’s all. No such thing as robberies, thefts, or anything like that. Now today, you gotta watch. You could walk the street, you could walk at night, and nobody would bother you. And today you can’t do that. It isn’t even safe to walk down the street. But we were safe then. We didn’t have to worry about anything like that, so I can say that we were very fortunate in that particular way.
Q: What was school like?
Mrs. Smith: Oh it was great. We had all enjoyed school very much. The teachers were great, too. Everybody paid attention. They didn’t criticize the teachers at all. We really had great schooling. Where I went from first to third grade was combined, and the fourth to the eighth grade was all girls, and my brother went to the famous Agassiz school in Jamaica Plain, which was all boys. We didn’t have any combined schools like that. But school was good—easy. Well I say easy because what we learned was the regular [inaudible] and how to read, math, and different things like that. Science was really nothing much then, at the time. There was just stars. Now of course science is a really big item. It’s one of the main items in school today. But geography, you learned about the whole world, the states, and everything else. You memorized them. Today, you don’t have to memorize anything. Go to your computer and it’s right there, so you really don’t work your brain at all to memorize things. I remember one time, the children were here and they asked me—they were talking about the states. In fact, I still have a game of the states, which they put together puzzle and all. And I started rattling off the states for them. They couldn’t believe I knew the states. I said, “When you learn them once, you never forget them.” All the capitals I don’t know. Of course we have more states now than before. But it was very interesting. I enjoyed history a lot. I really liked history. And of course you know that Woodrow Wilson was President during World War I. And he was the one that founded the League of Nations, which the United States never joined. And I don’t know why. It was very good.
Q: How do you recall President Roosevelt?
Mrs. Smith: Oh I think he was a great President. Really, yes. Everybody liked him. And as far as I know—of course you watch the movies today of Eleanor and Franklin D. It was a very interesting movie and they told a lot about how he became President and all like that. I think he did a lot for the country. I really and truly do. He was the one that founded the unions. Because the unions today are out of hand as far as I’m concerned. I think they are. The more they get—like everything else—the more they get, the more they want. And that’s the way. But he was a great President. What more can I say? I do remember the different things that he did. And his wife was very well known. She was quite a politician, too. But other than that. . .
Q: Do you remember Eleanor Roosevelt at all?
Mrs. Smith: Yes. I think she was a great lady. She had a lot of children. Of course she lived at Hyde Park, New York and I guess they sort of—they broke up, but they stayed together because of the family and political reasons. Because when he went overseas, he went to England and met a friend or something or other, and he—this is Franklin D.—but she stayed. And the family grew up and they worked out all right. I think she was a great lady. She went to different countries I guess after she was gone. I think she was a great lady and she put up with a lot. Well what can I say? Things happened and that’s it.
Q: Do you remember F.D.R’s New Deal program?
Ms. Smith: Yes the Fire Side Chats, they were very interesting, very interesting indeed. I can’t tell you what the chats were about but everybody listened, to the radio of course, because of the upcoming war and things like that. But he was a great man and I think he did a lot. I think he’s one of the favorite presidents of this country.
Q: Do you remember a Hooverville?
Ms. Smith: Oh! Herbert Hoover, he was the president. No, they didn’t talk much about him. As kids we used to make fun of him, you know, with a crazy little song. I won’t tell you. No, I didn’t like Herbert Hoover. He didn’t do any good to the country. The banks closed then, and that was the first of the bank closing nationally. That was real bad. As school kids going around we had a little song we would sing and that’s it but I won’t tell you what it is.
Q: How was your faith as a young person?
Ms. Smith: My faith? Oh we were very strict Catholics. We used to go to Our Lady Of Lords Parish… Every Sunday was Mass… On Lent we would go every day, cause you could walk to our church then, every day to mass and every morning, during Lent, the month of May and in October. That’s when we went, every morning, cause we were made to go then and understand it. It was the standard. School was in the afternoon cause there were a lot of kids there. The church was full of different people. We had a lot of missions which was very good and very interesting… Masses during then were really great. During Lent, Wednesday during holy week, every Wednesday they had the Tenebre services where the church would be in darkness and then on Holy Thursday we could walk the seven churches which you can’t do today. We were very true Catholics.
Q: Do you remember the 1939 World’s Fair in New York?
Ms. Smith: Yes, in fact I was there. I was on vacation I went. I had an Aunt and an Uncle one lived in New Jersey, one lived in New York. Yes I went there, it was really quite a thing. It was really something to see the World’s Fair.
Q: Can you tell us anything about it?
Ms. Smith: No because, it was just a lot of interesting different things went on there. Everyone was happy. We had a great time I think. A lot of different companies where there, like they had big companies to do with the business world and stuff like that. Yes I was there. I enjoyed that.
Q: How was your family impacted by the Depression?
Ms. Smith: Well we just took as a matter of fact, that’s all. I mean nothing was ever, we never made a big deal out of it, it was just one of those things that happened and that was it, you know? Course we weren’t into politics or anything like that. Although we knew the politicians in town: James Michael Curly the mayor of Boston for a number of times. I mean it was all just… we just accepted it that’s all. When it finally started going that was it. But no we just made do with what we had, we never complained about anything. What good would it do? No we never talked about it, we just accepted it as a matter of fact, a matter of living.
Q: Do you have any recollections of people in tough conditions in the Great Depression?
Ms. Smith: No each family kept to themselves. That’s all I can say. They didn’t tell about what they needed or anything like that. Nobody… well we just didn’t do that. People just kept to themselves and their own way. There was no gossiping or anything like that. If you knew somebody wanted something and you had it you just gave it. Like we even had relatives give us clothes to wear that their child had outgrown. We just accepted it that’s all. We each got one new coat and that did us and then it was handed down and it went around. People just accepted that as a way of life, and no big issue was made out of it. If anybody needed anything and we had it then we gave it. We used to give our clothes to people too, if they wanted it, and that was it.
Q: Do you recall much about World War II?
Ms. Smith: Yes I recall a lot of it, World War Two. A lot of my relatives went to the war then. Well what can I say, I know that during WWII we had the blackout and you had to be very careful and cover your windows completely. The shades that I have do not cover my window; we had special shades. And we had stamps, fact I gave my food stamps to my daughter, what was left over. We had food stamps in order to purchase canned goods because you weren’t allowed to buy canned goods or anything like that. I don’t know if anybody has food stamps today, I mean not what they’re giving to the welfare people or anything like that. These were a book of stamps and could be used for different things. But I did give them to my daughter because her daughter used them for school. Yes, you couldn’t buy everything; you couldn’t use your car or gas unless it was an emergency. So the emergency a lot of people used was that they were going to a wake, and they had the paper with them. There was no gas to really buy, because they weren’t selling it. I went to the girls club and I was a USO host there for the servicemen that came as a group they came from East Boston. It was a lot of fun at times; you just couldn’t use your car, that was improper. We managed all right. I had one uncle get hurt over in Japan. He survived. We used to have a lot of fun going out. My brother and the crowd we were with, we only went private dancing, out to somebody’s house, talking. We had a good time, but we remembered the people that had gone to war. I had another brother that went to Trinidad. He was co-pilot of a bomber. My older brother went to the coastguard but his wife wanted him home for the Children. They didn’t stay there too long. I had a lot of uncles that went to war. My cousin’s husband was over in Germany. A lot of people I know had gone to war and came back. Some of them talk about it and some of them don’t want to talk about it. I was working for Raytheon at the time over in Waltham. I was there when the war ended though. I was in NY City. It was just like the movies if you’ve seen movies of NY City during New Years Eve it was over that way when the war ended. That was when I was on vacation. I always hit these places at vacation time. That was in August, it was really a great thing to see. All the stores were closed the only thing open was the food places that you could go into. It was really something. Everyone was happy, it was amazing, really to see something like that. That was when the war ended. Everybody was real happy the war was over, waiting for people to come home.
Q: Do you think that we are still affected by the Depression?
Ms. Smith: I don’t want to say too much because you’re getting into politics then, and I don’t want to get into politics. I really think that times today really have to do with what’s going on today. I think the leaders have a lot to do with it. I don’t want to talk about the leaders or anything cause it’s not right, if you know what I mean. No I couldn’t. I think it has a lot to do with what’s going on today. I don’t know what we’re trying to do, but it’s not right. No I can’t talk about that, I don’t want to say anything to hurt anybody outside and hurt ourselves.
Q: Was politics always an issue that wasn’t really touched upon?
Ms. Smith: No, no, I don’t think so. No, but I think today, the way things are that politicians have to do with it, I really do. After the war I don’t think it was politics then. They didn’t have jobs then either and then jobs came along, like during the war people had jobs. There were openings for women to go to war, you know, and do things. A friend of mine became a WAAC and she was in the WAAC’s for years, and she has passed away. I do have one friend left that was in the service and she’s in Danielson CN. They don’t talk about it at all, but they remember, they didn’t go over seas, the women were home.
Q: How are kids today different?
Ms. Smith: They want too much, they get too much, they have too much money for themselves. We didn’t have any money growing up. I mean if you got a nickel or a dime you were very lucky. And you could put that away for whatever you wanted. Cause each one of us in our family had a bank, mine was a world bank. You could do with what you wanted with the change that you had, that was that. No, they didn’t have money today the way they had… They didn’t have jobs for kids today. You had somebody that wanted you for errands only; that was good but very seldom because people didn’t have to depend on others; they were able to do things themselves. I think today the kids have too much money and they don’t know what to do with themselves. We didn’t go out nights or anything like that. We played a lot of board games at home and we were busy doing things like that and enjoyed it. If we had nothing else my mother would make fudge. We would pop corn. My mother used to read newspapers for us, that’s how I got interested, that’s why I like the comics so much, she used to read them to us. We did a lot of different things in the house and we were happy doing that. I mean there was no reason to it. I do think that kids today have far too much money, they don’t know what to do with themselves, and they want to out do somebody else all the time. Which is wrong, they really haven’t learned to live. I bet you people have money in your pockets, sure. I don’t blame you cause if you can you can and that’s good. That’s my idea.
Q: How are kids similar?
Ms. Smith: No, no, they’re selfish really, they don’t want to do anything unless they’re getting paid for it. They haven’t learned to be as friendly as kids were years ago. Kids were really friendly then and you weren’t afraid of a kid doing something to you. We never had any of those worries at all. I think kids are very sheltered. I remember, I was in the grocery store not too long ago, and my great grand daughter was with me and her mother also. This is just one incident of how children are different. I was talking to the checker, the bundle girl, and the little girl came over to me and said, “Do you know that girl?” Well I said, “She works here.” She said, “Do you know her name?” Oh my god, they learn this in school not to speak to people unless they know them, and you can’t blame them for that with what’s going on. I got the girl’s name and said she wants to know your name and she’s always asking about her since then. But that’s just one example of how kids today, they cannot be friendly because they’re told to be very careful who you talk to, which is true. You can’t blame the kids for that today, because that’s the way they’re brought up. But I thought after that, that’s different. Kids are sheltered today, little kids are. I think that’s true of a lot of children. Children are made to be careful who they talk to. But what can I say; it’s true.
Q: Are there any questions we can learn from the Great Depression?
Ms. Smith: No, I can’t say that off hand. I don’t know what you could learn. No politics I would not get into, I don’t think that anybody should if they don’t know what they’re talking about. I may know myself what I’m talking about but somebody else may not know and be insulted by it. I hope you agree with me in a way. You have to be careful what you say. I’ll tell you one reason why. My brother was on a jury, this is a true story, and somebody said to him after the case ‘why did you say he was not guilty’. [Her brother responded] well he was part of a mob and I don’t want anything to happen to my family. See, you get intimidated by what you know about people. So you do have to be careful and protect your own family. Nobody blames him.
Q: Do you have any other stories you would like to tell?
Ms. Smith: Well I do but I don’t know if you would be interested… because we did have hard times growing up… We had a coal stove, alright. My brother and I would go down to the coal store in Forest Heights, we’d go down with a big burlap bag and get a hundred pound bag of coal to bring home. That was one of our jobs we had to do and thought nothing of it. My mother used to make bread, and when she used to make it in the morning, we used to have fried bread dough; it was really quite nice. We used to have it for breakfast; it was great, fried bread dough. She was really quite good to us. She was different than most mothers. We had a good family.