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Grace Wiggen

Grace Wiggen

Born: Wahpeton, ND, United States
Heritage: European American

Be cognizant of the fact you may not always have a lot of money to spend. Young people may be facing something similar to the Depression. We grew up trying to be economical in our spending and looking for sales. It would help us to do the same now. Sometimes it is better to do other things, than to get what we might half-need. Another thing is taking care of your health the best you can. I am 86 years old, have had cancer twice and recovered twice. Any kind of exercise is good. Don’t drink or smoke and drink lots of water. And finally, study hard and go to your library and read!

Grace Wiggen

My name is Grace Wiggen. I was born in 1922 in Wahpeton, North Dakota. At that time there were 3,000 people living there. It is on the Red River of the North. Wahpeton means “City of Leaves”. Up and down all of the streets there are beautiful trees. I love trees and the shade they give.

In the 1930’s there was a terrible drought in North Dakota. The temperatures got up to over a hundred degrees. The farmers were losing their farms and crops wouldn’t grow. They didn’t have money to pay for their farms and they lost them. Throughout the country during that era many people couldn’t find work.

In the big cities they would stand in bread lines to get food to eat. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created jobs for the young men. One of them was the Civilian Conservation Corps where the men would go out and create wonderful parks and great lodges throughout the country that people can still visit today.

One of my earliest memories is when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in 1927. He was the first one to make a solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean. We read in the newspaper about “Lindy” and how he had flown. It was a cub airplane with no electronic devices to tell him what to do and how to go. It was open on the side. He had to dress warmly and have helmets. He was a hero to us. I can remember a little airplane flying across the sky in Wahpeton and yelling “Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!”

For entertainment, people really concentrated on football, baseball and track. There were lots of movies and so many of them were happy events. There was a lot of dancing with some of the famous dancers being Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

We went on lots of hikes and picnics and had sleigh rides in the winter. In the summer, for fun we would play games like “Run Sheep Run” and “Hide-n-go-Seek”. The schoolyard had big metal Jungle Jims to play on. I remember some mean person would say, “Go stick your tongue on that metal”. If you did that it stuck to the metal and to get it off, some of your skin came with it. If someone were nice enough, they would get hot water.

We had big dances out in the country, barnyard dances, church dances, and dance-a-thons. People would sign up in couples. Early in the morning until late at night they would have to stay on the dance floor. They would charge people to come and watch. It would go on for days. They were so tired but they would be expected to put on entertainment in the evening so that people would come. One would sing a solo and another would tell a joke. I was one who did come; I’m ashamed to say. It cost a dime to watch somebody’s misery. The winning couple would win $1,000 but half of them destroyed their health.

I worked in an ice cream shop around 1938. We had 18 flavors and we tried hard to make good ice cream cones. You could get 3 scoops for 5 cents. Since we didn’t have any television to watch we would go for a ride to the ice cream shop. People would order all kinds of flavors and then bring their ice cream out to a dark car to eat their cones. I only worked there for 2 or 3 summers.

We never heard of refrigerators. If you wanted to keep anything cold you had an icebox. It was metal lined and we had a drain in it and we had to keep a pan under it to catch the water. Someone had the job of emptying the pan every 24 hours. If you forgot to empty it there would be water all over the floor and mom and dad would not be happy with you.

Washing machines were not too different but you had to fill them up with water and use a wringer to get the water out. If you weren’t real careful you might get your finger caught and it hurt. My mother-in-law made me a beautiful quilt by hand that I sent through the wringer. I tore it in lots of places and I still feel bad about that. That was about 50 years ago.


Life Was Simpler Way Back When

Honoring Grace Wiggen

Life Was Simpler Way Back When
(Honoring Grace Wiggen)

Life was simpler way back when
I’m thinking it might come back again
Had more time with my friends
Life was simpler way back when

My name is Grace Wiggen
I’m a school teacher
When I don’t speak, loud enough
I use my teacher’s voice
Didn’t have computers
Back in the Depression
No television to watch at all
So we didn’t have a choice
We would go walking
Out in the country
Put straw on a sleigh
Pull it by a horse singing Jingle Bells
Had house parties
Back in the Depression
Olives and pickles with a cup of soup
Walking from house to house

Anyhow at that time
When I went to school
There were only - forty-eight States
And now there’s fifty
Three scoops for a nickel
When it came to ice cream
But when it came to gas
Twenty cents, a gallon is what it cost
“Lindy! Lindy! “
Children screaming
When Charles Lindbergh
Made a solo flight - from the U.S.A.
Across the Atlantic
Before the panic
Of ’29 when the stock market
Tumbled to the ground

Yes, I remember
It was thrilling
Making seven dollars
And ninety-two cents
almost every week
Then one time
So thankful
In the ice cream shop
Someone gave - me a ten cent tip
I was so happy
With the money
Got a plaid wool dress
With velvet - collar and cuffs
For three dollars
Can you imagine
How much a dress
Like that - would cost today?
Postcard cost a penny
A letter cost two cents
And the - mailman came
To the house twice a day
Quite a bit has happened
Since the Depression
From where we are - looking back
Before World War II
We were poor
But didn’t know it
Everybody else in the whole wide world
Was standing in our shoes
What can I tell you?
Drink a lot of water
Take care of your health, study hard
And you will make it through

Words & music by Larry Long with Mrs. Beth Mattsson’s 4th grade class of North Park Elementary School.
Columbia Heights, Minnesota

© Larry Long 2008 / BMI