By Jay Penny
For the generation that grew up in the 1930s, frugality was a way of life. And for Merle Bowers, age 89, it still is a way of life.
Touring the barns on Merle Bowers’ 200-acre farm outside of Cassopolis, Mich. reveals drawers of old hardware, scraps of lumber and even old glass electrical insulators found around the area that Bowers cleans up and keeps. Bowers never likes to toss out anything from the projects he does around the farm.
“You never know when you might need something that you threw away,” said Bowers.
Bowers was born in 1927, two years before the stock market crash of 1929 that ushered in the Great Depression that lasted until the late ’30s.
Bowers said that a small loan he received shortly after buying his farm was done with nothing more than a handshake with a bank that he had never walked into. This was very different than when he was younger and money was tight even for the banks.
“It was different in the Depression,” said Bowers. “No one had money.”
Instead, people would rely on a barter system, trading goods and services in order to provide for their families.
“Maybe you had a job that took a day and you would trade that time for your neighbor’s job that might take two days,” said Bowers. “There was no ‘you owe me,’ you just helped out.”
Bower’s father would find work where he could find it. Sometimes he could get work building area roads using mules to pull the materials or would sell extra crops that he had planted to feed the family.
Merle Bowers’ son Dennis Bowers bought a farm just south of his father in the early 1990s and heeded his father’s advice keeping extra materials from various jobs or taking home items that his work was just going to throw away.
“Like a lot of the people that grew up in the Depression, it made them a little bit more conservative as far as not being as wasteful,” said Dennis Bowers.
The lessons of the Depression are far removed from our disposable society today, said Bowers. “You didn’t have things to waste,” he said. “You had to make do with what you had.”