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January 26, 2009



            Ed Neely and Mamie Lawton were married September 2, 1914. Ed was from Middle Tennessee. Mamie was from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. They were my grandparents.

            Mammy and Pappy started married life in Nashville, Tennessee. They moved to Greenville, South Carolina, in 1915 when Pappy had an opportunity to go into the lumber business with his brother-in-law.

In 1925, he decided to move to Spartanburg to start his own lumberyard on West Henry Street at the railway crossing. The family built a nice home on the Greenville Highway where the pavement ended. By 1929, Mammy and Pappy had eight children.

            Then came the Great Depression.

            In an economic downturn, the construction industry is among the first to suffer, and it is the last to recover. In a depression, construction, in general, and home building, in particular, decline. People struggling to make ends meet will postpone even home repairs.

            Pappy felt the burden of providing for his family. His fledging one-horse lumberyard was failing. In an attempt to save the business, he mortgaged the property. Politicians kept promising that prosperity was just around the corner.

Pappy then mortgaged his home, putting the money into his business. With a wife, eight children, and another on the way, Pappy was just trying to hang on.  Finally, he lost the lumberyard and their home.

            Family stories about those years of hardship abound.

Now, eighty years later in this current economic crisis, collective memories about how the family endured The Great Depression take on new meaning. Our family has learned much from the way Mammy and Pappy made it through hard times. May I share several principles that emerge from those memories?

1.  Face the reality instead of denying it.

            One night, in the thick of it all, Pappy came home with alcohol on his breath. Mammy, true to her Baptist upbringing, was stern. “Ed, we can make it through this together with the good Lord’s help. But we can’t make it if you turn to strong drink.”

            According to family legend, that was his last drink.

            2.  Hard work is required of everybody.

            Having lost the business and their house, Pappy and Mammy rented a place that still stands today across from the School for the Deaf and Blind at Cedar Springs. In that gray Victorian home with white gingerbread trim their ninth child was born.  They farmed the land where Mountain View Nursing Home is now located. They raised turkeys. A cow and a goat provided dairy products. Everybody worked.

            3.  Sacrifice is a common denominator. 

            My dad is the fourth of Mammy and Pappy’s nine children. He remembers his first new clothes. He was in the eleventh grade. “Before that, everything I wore was hand-me-down.”

            As a red-dirt farmer, Pappy plowed with a mule bought from the chain gang.  He raised sweet potatoes in abundance. Mammy knew their nutritional value. Using the food at hand, she often served sweet potatoes three different ways at the same meal. Her concoctions included sweet potatoes, baked and candied, sweet potato casserole, and sweet potato breads, muffins, biscuits, and pies. An after-school snack might be a cold baked sweet potato.

            After the hard times ended, one uncle absolutely refused to eat another sweet potato. “I had more than my share during The Depression,” he said.

            4.  Never give up.

When The Depression eased, Pappy started over. In 1937, the bank loaned him money on his word. He purchased a strip of land on Union Road.  On one end he built a lumber shed next to a railroad siding. On the other end of the property, he built a house, the home Clare and I live in now. 

5.  Pay your debts.

Pappy always had a sheaf of bank notes stuffed in his shirt pocket.  At the first of every week, he would pull them out, identifying those that had to be paid that week.  He worked all week to pay off those due; trying to keep his head above water, trying to make ends meet.          

When I was in the tenth grade, Pappy said, “Kirk, come here.  I want to show you something.” 

He had written a check for $500 to a lumber broker in Georgia.  He was putting the check in the mail.  He said, “This is my last debt from The Depression.” 

Pappy finally got all the debts paid. The last two years of his life, he was debt free.

6. Share With Others

Mammy and Pappy realized that many others were struggling just as they were. Because they lived on Highway 56, strangers often came to their door asking for food. Believing in the dignity of work, Mammy always gave them some small job to do before offering some of her delicious sweet potatoes.

Through it all, they gave faithfully to their church, firmly believing that everything they had was a gift from God.

7.  Faith and prayer will see you through.

            Before bedtime every night, Mammy and Pappy gathered their children around them. Pappy read a passage from the Bible. The family knelt in prayer. Mammy’s wisdom prevailed, “With the good Lord’s help we can make it through.”

This is a time in our country that calls for grit, determination, and sturdy resolve.  It calls for people of wisdom who can remember that times have been hard in the past.

Find those people in your life. They have much to teach us.


Kirk H. Neely

© January 2009 


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