The Great Depression might have delayed Rosa Mae Perry’s education, but she didn’t let hard times stop it.
“It took a lot of nerve to get on that school bus for the first time, but after that the ice was broken,” said Perry, 93, who was 20 when she could quit working long enough to go back to school.
As bad as the worst economic times since the Great Depression are, they pale in comparison to a devastated economy during a agrarian age without modern conveniences.
“We learned to live according to the times,” said Perry, who lives with her husband, Herbert, at Robinwood Apartments in Wendell.
Born into a sharecropping family in Franklin County, Perry stayed home to help out even though she made the top grades in her seventh-grade class, she said.
But the Great Depression hit. The stock market crashed, banks failed and people lost their jobs. The Bakers —- Perry’s family — could benefit from farm life, raising their own food from the fields and farm animals, but they were not unscathed.
The family’s mules for plowing the fields were repossessed, and the owner of their farm mortgaged crops to businesses to pay for equipment and fertilizer, she recalled.
“I made myself happy with all that I would do,” said Perry. “I worked hard, and I read everything I could get my hands on.”
Perry’s father and brother got a job with the President Franklin Roosevelt initiative, the Works Progress Administration, building N.C. 98 between Wake Forest and Bunn.
The family was able to see its way clear for Rosa to return to school when she was 20 and she was encouraged to do so by her brother, Roger R. Baker.
For Clayton Whitley, 83, of Zebulon, the Great Depression was his childhood.
“They were hard times for us the whole time,” he said. “Everybody was poor except people who had inherited stuff.”
Whitley recalled life in the 30s without many of the conveniences of electricity and plumbing.
“We were not alone,” he said.
Most eastern Wake County families raised 80 percent of their food, he said, so that kept them from going hungry.
Yet Whitley’s family lost their Nash County farm during the depression, but not their fight, Whitley said. His grandmother, Mary Brantley, had a little land. So his father bartered logs cut from his farm for timber, and he and neighbors built a small house for the family of 14 on his mother-in-law’ property.
After he lost his farm and when carpentry work was slim, Whitley’s father worked in a WPA project, Whitely recalled.
Whitley remembers that few people had cars, and some made “Hoover carts,” named after Herbert Hoover, the president many blamed for the depression.
The mule or horse-drawn buggies were made from an axle and wheels from a car that wasn’t in working order.