Bridging Generations

Ancestors and descendents of Joyce Verla Pratt and Mark Richard Berrett

The Great Depression – Living the reality

Gram and Pop married in April, 1927, just about two years prior to the Great Depression.  At the time they were married, Pop worked at the Chevrolet plant and Gram had a job at Flint Mosaic Tile Company. They lived near many family members in Flint, Michigan which was a fairly large industrial city.  The arrival of the auto industry was a huge boon to Flint, and Pop and many of his relatives spent their entire working careers in “the plant.”  I would guess that they had a comfortable living

The newlyweds made their first home  in an apartment upstairs from some friends.  After a while they bought their first home which, according to Pop’s sister, was little more than a shack!  The house was very small, and so to increase the size, Pop dug a basement by hand.

Michigan basement with partial cement block wals

Michigan basement with partial cement block walls

He began shoveling dirt out from under the foundation and hauling it away in a wheel barrow until he had created a dirt floored cellar, or what they called a “Michigan basement.”  A Michigan basement is usually shallower than the normal basement and is considered a step up from a crawl space.  It was common in older homes built with low foundations, and it was very popular in the roaring twenties when credit was easy and families wanted more room for storage.  Sometimes the walls of the basement were reinforced with cement or cinder block, but I don’t think this young couple lived in the house long enough to upgrade!

he Michigan basement was probably accessed from outside the house.

Their basement was probably accessed from outside the house.

I can only imagine how tedious the work was, and how long it must have taken to complete, but Pop and Gram were very proud of what he had accomplished.

The first child to join the family was my mother – Joyce Verla Pratt.  She was born on 2 October 1929, and on October 29, 1929 the stock market crashed, officially beginning the Great Depression.  I don’t suppose Pop and Gram immediately realized the effect the crash of the stock market would have on them, but it wasn’t long before they began to suffer the repercussions of that infamous day.  On one visit to their home in probably in the winter of 1930, Pop’s father noticed that the house was cold.  He questioned Gram and Pop and quickly realized that they simply had no money to buy coal to heat the house.  Grandpa Pratt was very upset to realize that they were living like that, especially since they had a young daughter.  He left and quickly arranged for a ton of coal to be delivered to their house.

Madalene with baby Joyce - summer 1930

Madalene with baby Joyce – summer 1930

Frank and Madalene had purchased this first home on a contract for less than $1000, but as the depression became worse, they knew they could not make their house payments.  Pop was finally able to get rid of the house by paying a man about $100.00 to buy the contract from him.  They felt fortunate to be able to do this so they did not have to declare bankruptcy and ruin their credit.  During the year that they lost the house, Pop worked every day that any work was available and still made less than $600.

After relieving themselves of the debt of their house, Pop and Gram and little Joyce moved in with his parents.  Located at 305 Stone Street, Grandpa and Grandma Pratt’s home was very near the auto plants and surrounding railroad tracks.  In recent years, that area has deteriorated to the point of being unsafe even in the daytime, but in the early 1930s it was a neighborhood full of working class families living the American dream in homes of their own.  The house was very modest, with just 3 little bedrooms and one bathroom and a small living/dining area.  At the time they moved in, at least one of Pop’s sisters still lived at home, so the living conditions must have been very cramped.  But in spite of the challenges I expect that they were grateful to have family willing to share their little home.

After a few years, their financial situation improved, and Frank and Madalene were able to once again purchase a home of their own.  Stay tuned . . .


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