The Great Depression: Memories of the worst of times

Charles Pokluda wasn't well-educated and didn't own a car, but he held a job at a packing plant on Fort Worth's north side. And if a member of his family had a need — really needed something— he found a way to provide.

It was the 1930s and the immigrant from Moravia didn't have a bank account.

He trusted his assets to a balding, elegant gentleman who wore a full beard and a frock coat with two rows of buttons and a boutonniere in his lapel. His title suggested royalty.

"Daddy," Bill Pokluda explained, "hid our money in a Prince Albert can."

It could be argued that a tobacco tin is not a bad place to keep one's hard-earned cash, even now, especially given the current turmoil on Wall Street. Some warn that America is on the verge of a financial collapse comparable to that grim decade after the 1929 stock market crash.

That period in U.S. history had a face.

It was called despair.

The nation saw its reflection in Dorothea Lange's stark, haunting photos of migrant farm workers.

The era had its own voice, too, distinct, calm, reassuring.

It was Franklin Roosevelt’s. The president often spoke directly to the hurting nation. FDR invited the Pokludas, all Americans, huddled around radios, to "tell me your troubles."

The children of that generation are in their 80s and 90s now. To these men and women, the Great Depression is more than a chapter title in a history textbook; they lived those indelible years of uncertainty and unprecedented hardship.

Warnings that history could repeat itself, that life could become that difficult in this day and age, seem to them unimaginable.

The memories remain strong.

Bill Pokluda walked with his father from their home near the Stockyards to the Montgomery Ward on Seventh Street — so his daddy could buy him a pair of new shoes.

When Vernon Page talks about growing up on a patch of farmland in Denton County, his pale blue eyes shine with tears of admiration for the goodness and work ethic of his parents.

Bobby Bragan still can see the worry etched on his dad’s face.

"It's tough now, but we'll get through it," George Washington Bragan assured his son as the construction worker sat on the front porch of their Birmingham, Ala., home.

Maybe 98-year-old Hollyce Johnson best defined the times.

"We didn't feel poor," she said, "because everybody was in the same way."

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