The way it was

Published 12:03 am Saturday, January 31, 2009

When Mary Frances Ward Taylor was a third-grader, there was a Depression going on, and local teachers were being paid with scrip, IOU’s of sorts.

At a PTA meeting, the teacher approached Ward’s mother and told her that the boarding house where she lived wouldn’t accept scrip. As a result, the teacher moved in with Taylor’s family.

“Momma took scrip in exchange for board,” she recalled at the Covington County Historical Society meeting Thursday night. “Everybody who had scrip was paid back. And that’s how I got to go to the World’s Fair in Chicago.”

Mrs. Taylor’s mother saved the scrip, and when she was able to cash it in, took a small group to the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.

Mrs. Taylor explained that Alatex and Andala kept the town going after the stock market crash of 1929.

“Mr. Scherff (who was the mayor and owned the mills) gave them something called scrip with a promise to pay them when he could get cash,” she recalled. “Some places would accept it for groceries.”

Taylor and others shared local stories of the Depression as part of the group’s program, “Remembrances of The Great Depression,” presented by Sue Bass Wilson.

J.H. Johnson was superintendent of local schools during the Depression. Wilson said Morgan Simmons shared a story with her about Johnson, who, on his wedding anniversary, stopped at the City Drug Store and bought a box of chocolates for his wife on his way home for lunch.

That evening, he asked his wife for a chocolate after supper. Mrs. Johnson refused — she had returned the candy and exchanged it for a bottle of Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia “because we needed it more than candy.”

Margaret Prestwood recalled that “all the banks in south Alabama closed except Dozier,” although some only closed for a short period of time.

She also said there was no money to pay attorneys, like her late husband.

“My husband had a client who was paying him in vegetables,” she said. “When he was loading them in the back of the car, the judge came along and asked for some of them because he didn’t have anything, either.”

In 1936, she recalled, some children picked up pecans on the way to school and ate them for lunch. Eventually, Mayor Scherff contributed money to the school to ensure that all students had lunch each day.

A piece of Depression glass on display prompted the recollection that an oatmeal company purchased large lots of the glassware before the Great Depression. They placed the glass pieces in oatmeal boxes to boost sales of their oatmeal. Today, Depression glass is a pricy collectible.

Others said that Covington County escaped the worst of the Depression. Wiley Ward, who was born in 1934 and grew up on a farm in Covington County, said even though times were hard, most area residents were able to grow food.

“The people in the cities were the ones who were really hurting,” he said.

As part of the program, refreshments included biscuits and Hoover gravy, so called because Herbert Hoover was the U.S. president when the Depression began. The gravy often was made with drippings from bacon or ham and water because milk wasn’t available.

‘Hoover Gravy’ Recipe


2 tablespoons bacon grease (or other drippings)

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper (scant)

1/2 cup tap water

1/2 cup milk


Get out a 1 quart sauce pan. In it, melt the bacon grease. Use a fork or whisk to stir in the flour. Stir until the flour is dissolved completely in the fat. Add the sugar, salt, and a scant 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gradually whisk in the tap water, and then the milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Boil for a full minute, and then serve hot.