Skyrocketing oil prices and record numbers of foreclosures have many people living on the edge. Such difficult times revive memories, for some coastal residents, of the Great Depression years.

Eighty-four year old Rockland resident Bettina Dobbs lived in Massachusetts during that era. She recalls that the prevailing attitude of the day was fear.

“When I was about eight years old, everyone was afraid and I’d never seen grownups afraid before,” she shared, recalling hearing people say, “I can’t pay the rent. What am I going to do?”

Dobbs’s father (who worked for the railroad) always had work but many others didn’t. She remembers that relatives moved in together as they traveled to other areas looking for work. She often gave up her bed for a relative who needed a place to stay for the night. 

“I’d go to sleep in my own bed and wake up on the day-bed,” said Dobbs, who recalls that people reached out to help friends and neighbors, too.

“When tollhouse cookies made their advent during the Depression, someone who could afford the chocolate would bake the cookies and take them around and let everyone sample those,” said Dobbs. “Otherwise we had very plain sugar cookies, if any at all…Wonder Bread was eight cents a loaf… hamburger was between 15 and 19 cents per pound.”

Dobbs remembers games and jigsaw puzzles were also passed around the neighborhood. “Monopoly came out during the Depression,” she said, adding that most entertainment occurred at home. “We played dominoes and checkers and other games at home and had sessions in the neighborhood.”

Used clothes were handed down or shared with others. Many people remade clothes.

“To change the cuffs on men’s shirts, we’d just snip off the cuff, turn it over, and stitch it on the other sleeve,” she explained. “We’d even remake our sheets.  We’d slit those down the center, turn them wrong side out and stitch a seam down the middle.  Then we’d have a nice strong sheet for another year… The rule of the game was don’t buy anything. Make do, substitute, or do without.”

According to Dobbs, people accepted whatever employment was available and many walked miles to work. The only persons she remembers having a car were her doctor and the funeral director. 

Another present-day Rockland resident who survived the Great Depression is 94-year old Thelma Baker. She says that even though her family (who lived near Bangor at the time) was very poor, they never knew they were in a depression. She explained they always grew their own food and raised animals. So they had plenty to eat. They did without luxury items.

“I don’t think I ever had a doll,” said Baker.

Although her family was poor, she fared well.  She landed a bookkeeping job, after graduation, for $100/month.

“I bought a 1933 Chevrolet for $25/month,” smiled Baker. “I never had driving lessons. I didn’t need them. I just got behind the wheel and drove. It was easy. I never took a driving test.”

Both Dobbs and Baker learned to be thankful during those years. Dobbs commented that she learned “to trust in God and not in financial arrangements.”

Islesboro resident Burke Welldon’s family lived in New Hampshire when the Great Depression began in 1929.  He recalls that they didn’t experience as much hardship as people in the bigger cities like New York and Boston.

“For our family it was a time of prudence rather than a time of privation,” recalled Welldon. “The only privation I really experienced was that my graduation class in 1933 didn’t have a prom or a yearbook because of the poverty.”

After graduating, he attended the University of Illinois. He recalls that when he caddied at the country club he walked all 18 holes.

“There were no carts,” said Burke. “I only got paid about 70 cents and no tips, I guess you could consider that a privation.”

Today, at 92, Welldon realizes how fortunate he was to have survived those years without the hardships that some experienced. 

“I remember reading in the newspaper about people standing in line for food,” said Burke. “There was a lot of unemployment.”