The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

How I Survived The Depression

By Royce Q. Holland © 1986

Issue: February, 1986

Home from the sea 1939: Royce Q. Holland.Home from the sea 1939: Royce Q. Holland.Having no father in the 30's (the worst of the Great Depression), I traveled to southwest Texas where I worked on the Angora goat farms. This was from the time when I was a kid of 14 years old and up through my teens. Being small for my age, I could not hold a man's place at the heaviest work such as bucking hay bales, bull-dogging grown cattle, etc. This put me on the road. Now for some unbelievable methods I discovered of obtaining enough protein to sustain the animal body.

The bakeries sold what they called "day-old" bread, cakes, and I especially remember the glazed doughnuts. It was a merchant's fallacy. They were a week or a month old if a day, but still they were very consumable. I think one measures something's "good" quality by "how hungry are you?"

Did you know that you can strip wild oats from the roadside boil the chaff in a tomato can, strain it through burlap and have a milky type very rich soup? Did you know if you had only 26 cents (in those days), that the wisest purchase was a peck of potatoes? You could boil them two at a meal and live quite well, at least not hungry, for weeks.

I remember once I ran out of salt. I went into a roadside cafe and while drinking a glass of water (I told the lady I was waiting on the bus), I emptied a salt shaker into my pocket. The next morning I found a jack rabbit on the road. It was still fresh, having been hit by the train that night. I stripped off most of his meat and had meat and potatoes for two days. Two days is about the limit for fresh meat in a knap sack in that Texas sun.

It takes courage to enter a farmer's cow pen and milk out his cow, but again, how hungry you are relates to courage.

Seldom a windfall in Texas, one could find corn growing. The ears are fine and few people know that the boiled pith of the stalk is sweet and quite nourishing.

Any cane patch was a great blessing. No! I never stole the traditional chicken. I think the Texas farmers guarded them better and they all had packs of dogs.

An orchard was always a good find.

I worked on the coastal schooners along the Mexican coast around Brownsville. I was never hungry in Brownsville. The shrimp fishermen gave away what they called "garbage fish," fish tangled in the shrimp nets. They didn't have a sale for them, except taking one or two home to their families. They gave me all I wanted. The names of those fish are to this day unknown to me, but I see them in markets now. I boiled them in sea water. The Mexicans taught me to eat kelp. The Japanese now get all the credit, but the Mexicans on the coast could give them a run for the money.

Home from the Goat Ranch 1937: R.Q. Holland; Cloyce Holland; Lois Mitchel.Home from the Goat Ranch 1937: R.Q. Holland; Cloyce Holland; Lois Mitchel.To understand how we had to live on the road was to know the situation. Millions were out of work. There were few cars on the road. No freeways. No welfare. You ran fast through towns because the county seats were waiting for hobos to fill their road work quota. The poor guy on the road could be held for 24 hours before being accused of a formal crime. You could build 10 miles of county road waiting for the circuit judge to get there.

No, I am not the typical hobo. Once I got a chance, I lived better. I was injured in World War II and that got me two degrees on the G.I. Bill. I am now a successful business man and my sons are with me in the business. I tire them telling them about how hard I had it. I really don't want them to ever have to strip raw jackrabbit. I just don't want any of us to forget how rough it can get. We must never forget where we've been.