JWR’s Introductory Comments: I transcribed and edited the following, from a series of interviews that I recently recorded with my mother, Barbara Marie (Creveling) Rawles. She is now 88 years old, and in failing health. But her memories are still vividly with her. She was born just as the world was entering the depths of the Great Depression. She grew up in a small farm town in California’s Central Valley. There, with a depressed economy, the community’s hardships carried on through World War II.
I took the liberty of some paraphrasing and re-sequencing of a few passages, to keep them in chronological order. I believe that SurvivalBlog readers will find it useful, in formulating their own strategies for surviving the years to come. History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.
I was born in Dallas, Texas, in October of 1931.
My mother, Julia Marie (Kinsella) Creveling was the oldest child of an Irish immigrant, William James Kinsella and his wife Ida (Holloway) Kinsella. My grandfather’s family arrived from Ireland with little more than a few clothes. My grandfather was fond of saying: “I came to America with two strong arms and $14.” But by the time his grandchildren reached adulthood, he had a fine house, with a carriage house, behind it. He eventually established his own hat manufacturing company.
Julia was born on August 20, 1905, in Dallas, Texas. She learned how to drive a car when she was 13 years old. Her father never learned how to drive. Growing up, one of her favorite activities was watching their hired cook, and helping her, in the kitchen. Unlike her mother, who never learned to cook, Julia became a good cook and learned how to do canning, in glass jars. After attending Southern Methodist University, she taught school in Dallas until her marriage to DeWitt Creveling in June, 1930.
Following a year living in Mexico, my parents returned to Dallas, where my sister and I were born. In 1937 our family moved to California, eventually settling in the small farming town of Dinuba, in 1940. My father was a teacher at Dinuba High School until his death at age 46, in 1949. My brother, DeWitt, Jr., was then just five years old.
After my father died, my mother Julia was a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln School in Dinuba for nineteen years. She later tutored and taught special classes at Grandview School until retiring at age 69.
My father, DeWitt Creveling, was born December 3, 1903, in Mexico. His parents were Americans living abroad. His father was a mining engineer, at a silver mine in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. The nearest town was called Aguas Calientes. So my father often joked: “I was born in Hot Water, and I’ve been in hot water all my life.”
Daddy grew up speaking Spanish and didn’t learn English until he was about 12 years old. He eventually spoke faultless English. So he was fully bilingual. He was the eldest of five sons. He and three of his brothers were born in Mexico. But one of them, Thaddeus, died of Typhus, when he was just six months old. The family then moved to San Antonio, Texas, where their youngest son, named Gray, was born. Their sons that lived to adulthood were: DeWitt, Robert, Louis, and Gray.
My father and mother were married in June of 1930, just as the Great Depression was setting in. My parents first moved to San Luis Potosi, to work at a silver mine as a junior mining engineer. When my mother learned that a baby was on the way (that was me) they decided to move back to Texas. Remembering the infant death of his baby brother Thad, my father wanted me to be born in an American hospital and raised in the States. My grandparent’s home was on Santa Monica Drive, in Dallas. So, now in the depths of the Depression, my father took various part-time jobs, in Dallas. And he worked for his grandfather-in-law, attempting to collect rents on some rental properties owned in Dallas. The collections because more and more erratic, as the Depression set in. In addition, to parents, my grandparents also housed my mother’s four teen and college-age siblings. My grandfather Kinsella had previously owned a hat factory in Dallas, and had been president of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. My grandfather Holloway had invested in rental houses, in Dallas. Actually receiving a rent payment was cause for celebration. Some renters could pay, and some could not. For 25 cents several of the siblings could go out to see a movie.
Fairly early on in the Depression, my grandmother and grandfather realized that their house had somehow been “marked” by the hobos. When someone is generous, news travels fast. So almost daily, there would be hobos at the back door, very politely asking for hand-outs. Often it was just a mayonnaise sandwich–just mayonnaise on bread–that would be handed out. Or perhaps a piece of cornbread. We lived just a short distance away from a Dr. Pepper bottling plant. Somehow, the Kinsella house was marked by the hobos, and they would trudge up the hill, on Santa Monica Drive, to beg for food. House curbs or back kitchen door lintels would literally be marked by the hobos, until these marks were finally painted or puttied over. The tramps and hobos were always expected to come to the back door, never the front door.
The Kinsellas had a succession of fox terrier dogs-all named Yippee–at the Santa Monica Drive house. Oddly, when the Depression began, the dogs began disappearing, one after another. Two were hit by cars, but the disappearance of the others was never explained. Some suspected that they were being eaten.
Downward Revised Expectations
My mother Julia had grown up in polite society, in an upper-middle-class Dallas household with a maid, a yard-and-cleaning man, and a cook. She had grown up attending bridge luncheons, formal dinners, sorority parties, and dances. The Great Depression forced most families to revise their expectations. But even more so for my mother, who had married a man who since 1931 rarely held a full-time job. But thankfully, my mother had a gradual transition. Their year living in Mexico started her in “changing gears.” Life in Mexico was very congenial, living amongst the other engineer families, but very lonely for my mother during the day. And she learned how to cook and clean house.
As the Depression set in, there were tough days, for everybody. My mother and father started running out of savings. They began selling off anything that they could: Jewelry, furs, silverware, furniture, and so forth. They no longer bought fancy foods or fancy clothes. By 1932 they were living on just a couple of dollars, per day. In 1943, they were still driving the same old Chevrolet sedan that Dewitt had bought used, in 1928. And if it were not for the charitable generosity of my grandmother, they would not have bought their house in 1943. That house, which was built around 1928, cost them $2,000 in 1943.
Off to California
It was while they were still living in Dallas that I was born, and then in 1934, came my sister Anita. The economy in Dallas was very depressed. My Grandmother Anna Lavinia (Gray) Creveling (who the grandcildren called “Gomma” and the adults called “Vinnie”) was a widow who lived in Santa Monica, California. Her quite elderly parents lived nearby, in Santa Monica. My great grandfather was Captain James Gray, a Civil War Army veteran. Gomma invited my parents to come to California, to live with them. DeWitt and Julia accepted because it was difficult to earn a living in Dallas, and they hoped that the job prospects would be better California. So, in 1937 they loaded us up their 1928 Chevrolet sedan and moved to California. My Uncles Charlie and Jimmy Kinsella were left in charge of selling off their remaining furniture, after they left Dallas.
Arriving in California, we first lived in Gomma’s cliffside home, in Manhattan Beach. Gomma’s mother was quite senile and needed constant attention. Grandfather Captain Gray was in his mid-90s. He was a feisty old character, who would swing his cane and cuss at car traffic. He had many quaint expressions. One of them was: “Bread is the staff of life, but coffee is life itself.”
After arriving in California, my father could only find part-time jobs. For instance, he got another part-time job in electronics working on Gillfillan brand radios. He even did some babysitting. He was a baby sitter for the actor Tyrone Power. My father also helped construct a house, on a lot that Gomma owned, next door to her house.
Unable to find any full-time work, my father decided that he should get a teaching credential. He had a great rapport with kids. So, in 1938, he moved our family to Alameda, California. We lived in a rental house, just across from San Francisco Bay. He enrolled at the University of California (UC) Berkeley, in a two-year program, to get his credential. Part of that program required a temporary move to UC Davis, to take more Animal Husbandry classes. His mother helped pay for this post-graduate school.
My father always wanted to be a rancher or a farmer. After High School in San Antonio, he studied Agriculture and some Engineering, at Texas A&M University, and again post-grad, at the UC “Cal” Berkeley, and later at UC Davis. While at Texas A&M, he worked at an experimental farm that was involved with the development Guayule, which is used as an alternative for making rubber. My father was in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Army Reserve Corps (ORC).
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)