Oral History: A Child of the Great Depression – Part 3

(Continued, from Part 2. This concludes the series.)

We also raised rabbits, in a row of three backyard hutches, that my father built. These were wire mesh hutches on wooden frames that were elevated and protected by a roof. We raised white rabbits with black ears, noses, and paws, as well as some gray rabbits. I was in charge of gathering the rabbit feed. Since Dinuba was a farm town, all of the vacant lots had weeds that were mostly hay grass, or alfalfa. Once every two or three days, I would ride my bicycle around town and use hand shears to cut the grass and alfalfa. We preferred alfalfa. The lot owners never objected because I was cutting their weeds, for free. I would stuff as much as I could into the big basket on my bike. We never paid for any rabbit feed–only salt. Since we knew they’d be butchered, we never named our rabbits.

War Bonds and Scrap Drives

WWII War Bonds PosterIn 1940, with the war in Europe already in progress and American involvement looking likely, a series of Defense Bonds were issued, to help cover the enormous expenditures, as the military ramped up. After Pearl Harbor, these were re-named War Bonds. There were plenty of patriotic exhortations in newspaper and magazine ads, radio commercials, parade floats, and special events like concerts. Movie stars got involved, in the Bond Drive campaigns to sell these war bonds. There was tons of publicity, and they even pushed them on us school kids. Basically, this is how they worked: You would pay $18.50, and then at maturity the bond could be redeemed for $25.00. To make the bonds affordable to working-class people and to children, 10 cent savings stamps could be purchased and pasted in special stamp albums. Once you had saved $18.50 worth of stamps, then you’d have a full bond. Each week, a man from the local bank would come to our grammar school, to sell the War Bond stamps. I can still picture his kindly face.

One of the other ways that the citizenry got involved in the war effort was in scrap metal drives and other civic drives to collect all sorts of things: rubber bands, string,  aluminum foil, paper, and even left-over cooking fat. The kids in Dinuba all got involved, pestering adults for donations, but the kids did most of the work.  Everyone thought it was part of “Doing Our Bit” for the war effort.

Over X-Rayed

One of my father’s many weekend and summer jobs was as a salesman at the shoe store down the street– Don’s Shoes. Surprisingly, it is still in operation in 2020, at the same location! Anita and I, and sometimes accompanied by our neighbor Ruthie Gapen would walk and visit the shoe store. We got a big kick out of being there with Daddy. As little girls, we felt like we were part-owners of the store. While Daddy was waiting on customers, we were standing on the scale, or standing on the X-Ray fluoroscope machine that was used for fitting shoes. We could look at the bones in our feet, and even see our toe bones wiggle, when the machine was turned on. We thought that was fascinating, so we’d take turns doing that, over and over. Daddy would say:  “Hey girls, why don’t you let someone else use that.” This was not because it was considered hazardous, but rather because he didn’t want us distracting the genuine customers, or keeping them away from the machine.

A Runaway Horse

When I was about 10 years old, I was invited to come and visit a widow who had hired my father to teach her Spanish. Although it would be useful for communicating with some of her farmworkers, she mostly wanted to learn Spanish because she thought it was a beautiful language. To me, it was remarkable that she was willing to pay for a private tutor. She had a large farm, and kept some saddle horses. My father first rode one of her horses to tire it a bit. Then he demonstrated to me how to mount and handle the reins. Then he dismounted and shortened up the stirrups for me. Just after I got the reins in my hands, the horse sensed that I was an inexperienced rider, and she took off at a trot. And then she advanced to a gallop! I was hanging on for dear life. The horse traced a broad circle across the field and headed back toward the house. Ahead of us was a clothesline, partially filled with laundry. I realized that this clothes line was only about the same height as the horse’s head. The horse picked a gap in the hanging clothes, ducked its head, and galloped through. I had enough sense to duck down low over the saddle horn. As we passed under the clothesline, I could feel it brush my back. I came that close to an accident. The widow whistled at the horse and then it slowed down and came to a halt, and returned to her. But that didn’t deter me from getting acquainted with other horses, in the future.

Losing Uncle Bobby

Many members of our extended family served in the military during World War II. These included my Uncle Charlie Kinsella who was in the U.S. Navy SeaBees, Uncle Bob Creveling, a Cal Tech graduate, who became a U.S. Army Engineer Corps officer, and my Uncle Gray Creveling, a U.S. Navy officer.

One of my most notable relatives who served was my mother’s double-cousin William “Bill” Shuttles, of Dallas. He was a B-17 bomber pilot who was promoted to Colonel, by the end of the war. He had the distinction of landing the first U.S. bomber in France, shortly after the Normandy invasion, at an airfield that was still under construction by U.S. Army Engineers. This was a runway that was not yet completely covered in Marston Mat [pierced steel planking].

But of them all, I was fondest of my Uncle Robert (“Bobby”) Kinsella. He was my mother’s youngest brother. He was a Divinity student, who had been studying to become an Episcopalian priest. When the war broke out, he joined the Army Air Corps. He was a sweet gentle soul. He was a lot of fun and was very kind to us–his nieces. Whenever he visited us, he spent just as much time with my sister and I, as he did visiting with the adults. The last time that I saw him was when he came to visit the family in Alameda. By then, he had already earned a commission as an Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant. In November of 1942, Robert Kinsella was based at the Iron Range Airfield, in tropical northern Queensland, Australia. He was with the 320th Bombardment Squadron.

On a bombing mission to Rabaul, New Guinea, his B-24 bomber, painted with its nickname “Punjab” went down over the Pacific, without a trace. This was one of the first operational missions for the squadron, flying from Iron Range Airbase. The bomber was piloted by the Squadron Commander, and the Group Commander — a full Colonel — was flying as co-pilot, since theirs was the lead aircraft for the bombing mission. Officially, Bobby and the rest of the crew were listed as “Missing in Action.” But after a few months, we gave up any hope that he had survived. The following is from a description of the mission, written after the war:

“There were 7 aircraft from the 320th Squadron, 4 from the 319th Squadron and 4 from the 400th Squadron in this bombing mission. The first B-24, #41-11902 “Punjab”, took off at 2300hrs as scheduled. The next B-24 did not take off until 2314hrs. There was a lot of confusion amongst the “green” pilots. Some of the pilots were not ready when it was their turn to take off. They had not determined a suitable method of communication and no method of control in dispatching the aircraft was in place. The first aircraft took off with landing lights on while the others that followed did not use their landing lights. The runway lights were placed too far apart.

This first B-24, #41-11902 “Punjab”, vanished without a trace on this mission from Iron Range to Rabaul. It was piloted by the Commanding Officer of the 320th Squadron, Major Raymond S. Morse. Also on board was the Group Commander, Colonel Arthur W. Meehan, who was co-pilot.”

Since my mother’s parents had already passed away, my mother (his sister) was listed as Bobby’s next of kin.  First, she received a telegram informing her that her brother was MIA. Then, sometime later, we had an official visit from a couple of Army Air Corps officers, to express condolences. Finally, we were sent a Purple Heart–the medal that was sent to the family of the majority of servicemen who were killed in action. At that point, we started grieving all over again. It was just terrible.  We were in tears for days. My mother was very close with her sister and brothers. So Bobby’s death was very hard on her.

V-J Day

The end of World War II in 1945 was of course a great relief. On “Victory Over Japan Day” (V-J Day), there were spontaneous celebrations all over the country. In Dinuba, we heard news that a celebration was being held in Fresno, so many people hurried there, to join in. We didn’t go, but I heard that there was lots of dancing in the streets and a ticker-tape mess.

After the war, the veterans filtered back home, after de-mobilization. Things fairly soon got back to normal.  Many of the local Japanese internees returned to Dinuba. There was not much bitterness. Rationing quickly ended in the States, but it continued on, in England, for several years. And there was still a farm labor shortage in the Central Valley, so the Bracero Program continued, and my father was still needed as an interpreter.

My Many Jobs

Before and during high school, I worked as a babysitter, watching up to four children at a time. I also worked as a grape picker, briefly as a fig orchard picker-upper, and at Nororian’s candied fruit plant assembly line. When I was 15, I got a job at Dinuba’s State Theater, as an Usherette. There, I also did stints selling tickets and working at the theater’s popcorn stand. A couple of years later, I worked — again as an Usherette — at the Pep Theater, at the other end of L Street.  At the State Theater, we had a dysfunctional Projectionist. Sometimes, he’d get a movie’s reels out of sequence. Or he’d fall asleep and the screen would go white, rather than the next reel starting, as it should. And on one memorable occasion, while showing the movie Duel in the Sun, he managed to play the final reel, upside down and in reverse. In the film’s dramatic finale, Gregory Peck and leading lady Jennifer Jones, were dying of the wounds inflicted upon each other. Jennifer Jones was supposed to be crawling toward Peck, to reconcile. But, with hysterical laughter from the audience, we watched as she crawled away from him, speaking gibberish, in reverse! Frantically, I ran up to the projectionist’s booth. But he attempted to shoo me away with a wave of the back of his hand, incoherently. (You had to be there….)

I was in high school from 1946 to 1949. Everyone there of course knew my father. So I suppose that I arrived with high expectations, academically. I took a Spanish course, in my Freshman year. That was taught by my own father. When I learned Spanish, it put an end to the “Secret Language” that my parents had spoken at home, whenever they wanted to keep something from us children. In high school, in addition to academics, I was in the cast of play productions for three years. In my senior year, I had a singing and dancing duet and was in a group tap dance at the annual Band Show.  I was Editor of the school newspaper. I was also in the Scholarship Society, and on the Student Council. In the fall of my freshman year of college, I was nominated to be Raisin Day Queen, at the annual Dinuba Raisin Day. But Mavis Steele reigned as Raisin Day Queen. So I was one of the Raisin Day Princesses. In the parade, we all rode in pretty gowns on a large flatbed trailer.

At home, we had a beautiful pedigreed Cocker Spaniel dog named Blondie. She was very willful and thought that she was in charge of the house and kids. All too often, when I walked to school, I’d find that Blondie was covertly trailing me. So I’d have to lead her back home and close her up in our screened back porch. That naughty dog!  This continued when I started high school. And my high school was a longer walk than the grade school had been from our L Street house. Sometimes, I’d discover that Blondie had followed me all the way to school. I’d have to apologize to my First Period teacher that I’d be late for class, and lead Blondie back home.

Losing My Father

Major DeWitt CrevelingJust after I graduated, in the summer of 1949, my father was the senior officer in charge of the JROTC Camp at Camp Roberts, California. For two weeks, there were cadets gathered from all over southern and central California at the encampment. On just the second day of the camp, my father told some of the other officers that he wasn’t feeling well, and he went to rest on the cot in his tent. He suffered a massive heart attack, and died there on his cot. We didn’t realize the state of my father’s health, until after he died. He had kept it a secret, even from my mother. Only his local physician and one in Fresno were aware of the seriousness of his heart condition. My mother only knew that he had been feeling fatigued in recent months, and that he had seen his doctors because he was developing cataracts.

When my father died, it came as a shock to my family.  My brother was then just five years old. My father was buried in San Gabriel, California. This was in my father’s family’s plot in the churchyard, close by the Episcopal church. Many other Creveling relatives are also buried there in San Gabriel.

Hard Times, Tough People

Our experiences in the Great Depression and World War II showed the resilience and gritty determination of our citizenry. We all felt challenged, but at the same time, it was strengthening. To go through a world war, a global depression, and then another world war was quite traumatic. But it demonstrated the true character of the American People.


  1. Yep! Very few have the wisdom and experience of our WW2 greatest generation. The wisdom i received from my WW2 dad is unparalleled. THEY ARE UNFORGETTABLE!!

    Also, PHD’s don’t teach this stuff in Liberal Univ. American’s are paying too much to become dumber. Veteran families are better equipped = ready for difficult times ahead. But we aren’t coasting on our laurels. We celebrate the warriors of the past. They knew the realities of our world. Currently, this spoiled millenial generation is in for a rude awakening.

    I love how JWR and a few other preppers are mentioning prayer AND practical skills. Post war veterans are deeply spiritual because of the horrors and suffering they witnessed. And overcame. God bless you all. ~ Johnny

    1. Here is a wonderful story, a quick read, about the WWII veterans doing something magnificent shortly after the war: https://www.legion.org/magazine/249282/freedom-train

      I esp enjoyed how the Marines handled the FBI agents and the authors telling us a bit about how the Marines had seen the ugliness of war.

      And yeah, I enjoyed reading about honorable men doing an honorable duty. Marines.

      Carry on, in grace

  2. Fascinating reading! Thanks for sharing. I love to hear personal accounts through the years like this. Amazing peering through a window in time and history like that.

  3. “Our experiences in the Great Depression and World War II showed the resilience and gritty determination of our citizenry. We all felt challenged, but at the same time, it was strengthening. To go through a world war, a global depression, and then another world war was quite traumatic. But it demonstrated the true character of the American People.”

    May we be honing our character now as well. Thank you so much for sharing this, JWR. Praying for your mama and you as you give care.

    My mom died in Sept. 2018, Dad in Sept. 2019. To those of you who still have older relatives left – ask questions now. Sometimes it can start with a simple question: Did you have any pets? (Love the Blondie story.). That might get the ball rolling and the memories will tumble out. Take notes. Go through old photographs with them. Preserve the memories. I have a feeling we are going to need the inspiration and grit of the greatest generation.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate reading of times when Americans were problem solvers because they felt empowered to make the best of life’s circumstances rather then relegated to be eternal sufferers.

  5. Hey JWR, please give your mom a big hug and tell her we all appreciate so much her letting you share her stories with all of us. If it’s not too personal, can you tell us what it was like “interviewing” your mom and writing her stories, and is there anything special you can say to help inspire others to turn off the TV and interview their own family patriarchs and matriarchs before they’re gone?

    I loved her story about riding around town on her bike cutting alfalfa with her shears to feed the rabbits, and the neighbors getting some weeds cut for free. And the horse running away with her, scary as heck at the time but a great story for later on.

    The movie theater stories were the best, I was laughing my head off. In high school, I ran the projectors at our small town “show house” and I hadn’t thought about it for years until I read her stories today. We didn’t even make minimum wage, but we didn’t care because there were very few jobs for kids and we got to see two new movies every week. The projectors were so ancient they didn’t even have light bulbs in them, the light was generated by two arc carbons which slowly burned down and got shorter as the movie progressed. If you forgot to check between reels and one was too short, the movie would go dark right in the middle of a reel and everybody in the theater would start screaming and yelling. It took a minute to put a new one in so the boos and jeers were pretty loud by the time the movie was running again. I think I made all the mistakes she mentioned, hence my laughing so hard. Our “previews” to let the moviegoers know what was coming in the next weeks was a piece of 3 x 5 glass which we wet, smeared Ajax cleanser on, and then let dry. When dry, we would scratch into the cleanser, “Next Week: John Wayne in The Cowboys” then put it into an oversized slide projector and flash it up the screen.

    “To go through a world war, a global depression, and then another world war was quite traumatic. But it demonstrated the true character of the American People.”

    That’s the word I’ve been looking for, character, that’s what’s missing most in America these days.

    Personally, I’d love to see more of these kinds of stories on SurvivalBlog. There’s so much we can learn from the past and the people who lived in a different age, and certainly give us plenty of ideas to remember, draw upon, and improvise from after the SHTF.

    1. Such an insightful post, St. Funogas! …and a most excellent idea too. We would also love to see more of these kinds of stories on the SurvivalBlog! Prayers continue for JWR’s Mom and for the whole family.

    2. Yes, stories of CHARACTER.

      I must disagree with StF about it lacking these days. I have many nieces and nephews in their 20s. Two, who are brothers, put themselves in solitary quarantine twice when they feared they may have been exposed, This was to protect their beloved Grandmother.

      A niece, who teaches 4th graders, worked many extra hours to make sure each pupil had a laptop or tablet. She spent many hours more with the ones who struggle with technology.

      Another nephew, 28, just graduated medical school and is working in an ER while his MD wife of six weeks will be serving newborns at a children’s hospital.

      I would gladly invite any of these youngsters to join my prepping community.

      Please join me in seeking people like JWR’s mother in our modern world and telling their stories. We are surrounded by solid citizens with big hearts. As elders, we can provide openings for them to express their love.

      Carry on in grace

  6. Thank you for the peek into history.

    My mom wrote out her’s entitled “Things I Remember and You Won’t”.

    These snapshots of the past are so important to the future of this country, especially in light of what is happening to our history today.

  7. I can identify with the runaway horse, as that happened to me once.

    My grandmother kept those “rationing habits” well after WWII: using margarine (“it is better for you than butter”) and keeping cigarette package inner tin foil in a large ball (“recycling and the war effort”).

  8. My heart goes out to your mom for losing her dad and uncle Bobby, and at such a young age, no less. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her life and was sad when the story ended. If current times weren’t so crazy, I would make plans to go to Dinuba and visit Don’s shoe store, hahaha.

    I, too, remember the childhood joy of picking weeds for my rabbits, as well as hanging on for dear life on my neighbors runaway horse, who could not be reigned in on the return to the barn.

    I think many of us would relish more stories from her interesting life.
    May the Lord bless her and keep her, and give her peace. Krissy

  9. Thank you for sharing some of your family history. I didn’t want the article to end and was craving more of the story.
    Thank you for also sharing the photos, I always feel like I have a connection with the people in photos when I am reading a book or a story. Your mother is absolutely beautiful!

    I’m going to start questioning my mom and dad about my grandparents stories. I’m very interested in their histories as my moms dad died when she was three (he was a Merchant Marine) and mom was born in 1941.
    My dads father died two years (1966) before I was born (1968) and he was twenty years older than my dads mom (apparently that was rather scandalous) but more than ever I now want to get this family information as mom and dad both have Alzheimers and I feel I don’t have much more time with them.

    I too hope others here are willing to share some of their own family histories, I for one am really interested

    Thank you again and please give your mother my love and gratitude for sharing with us


  10. I’ve only got bits and pieces of the stories my father told me. I’m attempting to put those stories together into something coherent. He died in 2014, aged 88. I do have the majority of the family photographs going back to the 1890’s. I at least know what my great grandfather looked like. He died around 1930, born about 1860.

    I tried to get my Dad to write down his stories when he had nothing to do. I tried to get him to record his memories on audio tape from as early as he could remember. He was born in December, 1925. So he lived through the depression and served in WW2.

    I have some of my Mom’s stories, but she wasn’t as talkative about her family. Sadly there were “issues” with some in her family, so her stories were sparse on details.

    So all I have are my memories of the stories my parents told me. I’m making an attempt to get them recorded, mostly for my cousin’s kids and their kids. Unfortunately my wife and I were never blessed with children. We do what we can with what we have to work with. We do have our nephews to pass things on to.

    1. Important work you’re doing, Charles K, for your nephews now and for generations to come. Enjoy the journey. We have found our own family history search to be quite an adventure filled with lots of surprises. In our experience, we were able to uncover much more than we imagined possible — some through records searches, some though newspaper accounts, some through connections with people still with us who had living memories of family members who died long before our own earthly arrivals. In the case of one great great grandfather, we began with a first and last name, and absolutely no information about any siblings, or his parents. Today we know so much more, and have a fascinating life story to share with others. We’re wishing you this kind of success, and so much more. Keep up those outstanding efforts!

        1. Thank you so much, Once a Marine! Your message was heartwarming, and I am also grateful for all the wonderful encouragement and sharing of friends and fellow preppers in the SB community — you among them!

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