LaFayette Sun News

Past resident recalls childhood in LaFayette during Great Depression

By John Brice

In an elegantly handwritten letter addressed and mailed to the offices of The LaFayette Sun, former resident Betty Sanders Blount recalled sanguine memories of her remarkable childhood spent growing up in old LaFayette with her dear family during the grueling years of The Great Depression. Given the economic uncertainty faced by the American people and across the globe in today’s modern world, her heartfelt recollections of perseverance in the face of financial despair attain an especially poignant meaning in light of the shocking future potentially lying in wait for all of humanity.
News headlines this week of bank runs by agitated depositors bringing hallowed financial institutions such as Silicon Valley Bank to their knees echo painful memories passed down through the decades by the greatest generation that came of age in the 1930s to the children and grandchildren of the postwar 20th century who have now become the seniors and adults of today.
Born in 1928, Betty’s father Jesse Lee Sanders moved his family to LaFayette when she was only six months old for the purposes of starting his employment as manager at J.P. Harrelson’s Grocery and General Merchandise Store. Housing was nearly unavailable at the time save for a dwelling offered to Mr. Sanders by the Chambers County Sheriff of that era who owned a property locally known as “The Haunted House” which was adjacent to the hanging grounds that were located in a field behind the home.
Despite decaying plaster walls that were infested with insects and rodents as well as a lack of running water, Mr. Sanders accepted the offer out of desperation and moved his family in. Standing in stark contrast to the shabby accommodations, the rental did come beautifully furnished, replete with oriental rugs, an organ, a victrola and a cast iron stove in the kitchen.
At the newly occupied home near Bailey McClendon’s grocery store, next to the mill village houses that were on the opposite side of the road and one mile from where her daddy worked downtown, Betty’s parents toiled tirelessly to make the abode livable. Outdoors there was a water well, a barn and a garage all suffering from states of disrepair which were cleaned out and the vermin in the walls inside the home were driven away with boiling water. Betty’s mother, Minnie Sanders, planted shrubs out front and roses on a hard clay bank. I
It wasn’t long before Betty was attending school with classmates which included Billy Walton, Charles Spence, Charlie Torbert, Grace Hines, Ellizabeth Hollingsworth and Alice Faye Carmichael. Maggie Hill Gilmore was an employee of Mr. Sanders at Harrelson’s store who had a son named Jimmy.
Just as the Sanders family was finding their footing in LaFayette, the stock market crashed and The Great Depression set upon the world to wreak havoc all the way down to Chambers County. Harrelson’s store burned down contemporaneously in a tragic twist of fate, destroying the business. With banks shuttered due to the economic depression, there was no money for new businesses to borrow. Jobs were in short supply, Mr. Sanders occasionally worked for Sally Yeager at her shoe store on the square.
Spared from starvation only due to the fact that the Sanders family had cleared and planted crops in the field beside their home, those harvests sustained them along with milk from a cow, eggs from chickens and meat from pigs that they raised on their property. Betty remembers as a child being supremely “impressed by Dad’s willingness to do anything and everything for us.”
At ninety-four years old, Betty’s parents and her siblings have all passed away but her memories of old LaFayette still help her to remember the hard work that her parents did to survive the depression and to ensure that the Sanders children had happy days and fun times as a family during those difficult years in the 1930s. One year her mother Minnie decorated the entrance area of their house to help the kids celebrate Easter. She made joyful bunny rabbit decorations out of newspaper, flour and water paste.
There were now four Sanders children and they were so excited by their mother’s work that they wanted everyone to know what she had done. By chance the LaFayette Sun heard about the decorating, photographed it, wrote a story and published it in the newspaper. That newspaper clipping was kept by the Sanders family for years before it inevitably disintegrated.
Betty is writing a book to record her memories for posterity so that her children, grandchildren and generations to come can learn about and understand the experiences of their forebears. Before their passing, Betty brought her parents back to LaFayette to see the old haunted house that they had rejuvenated once upon a time. Bittersweetly they found that nothing there remained besides the ruins of the formerly grand home. Upon reflection, Betty counts the hard times in LaFayette as times a blessing for all that she learned about life. For her, God is ever faithful and always present.

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