Watching a train with some coal cars pass by the other day I remembered a story Dad used to tell about growing up during the Depression of the 1930s. Dad was born in 1928, so he was maybe 8 years old when he did this: In order to heat the house in Idaho, the kids in the neighborhood would listen for the trains to travel by. As the train would lumber by, the kids would throw rocks at the locomotive and the cars. In response, the engineer and the fireman would throw wood or coal, whichever they were burning, back at the kids. The kids would then gather up all of the coal and wood to take home and burn in the stoves or furnaces. There was never anything malicious about this daily event. Everyone, the trainmen and the children, understood that this was a way to help everyone in the neighborhood. Afterall, the entire country was suffering from the depression, this was simply an informal way to give to the less fortunate in the community; to provide a free resource to heat their homes.
Still, another way to heat the house, a man in the neighborhood went to every house and explained how to by-pass the gas meter. Then when the gas reader came by to read the meter, one neighbor would stall him while the rest of the neighborhood removed the evidence of the by-pass. Dad remembered that the man that introduced all of this went to jail. But the rest of the neighborhood continued to survive.
The lesson in all of this is that the community worked together for the survival of all. There was no “survival of the fittest” mentality. It was more of a “we’re all in this together” concept.
We hear about the depression era mentality when then generation of Americans hate to waste anything. I also wonder if there isn’t a greater sense of charity and compassion in that same generation because they all grew up working together to insure the well being of everyone in the neighborhood.