March 23, 2001
One of last month's columns told the sad story of the Great Depression's impact on the Kerr family in Perry, and I held it up as an example, of the kind of devastation left behind by that economic anomaly. It wiped out the resources of the head of the family, Mr. J.C. (Happy) Kerr, and was primarily to blame for his descent into poverty and the breakup of the family. Mr. Kerr's daughter, Elfreda Wells, who now lives in Stillwater, told the story to me. Some readers who remember the Kerrs have expressed interest in more information, and that is the topic of today's column, told with Elfreda's gracious permission. It gives more insight into the type of experiences that many Perry folks endured in the 1930s. Here is Elfreda's account:
"My Dad's name was John Charles but I believe he was best known by the initials, J.C.," Elfreda- writes. "James Kerr (the local Dodge and Plymouth car dealer) was my uncle. I recall how he and Dad would take old inner tubes and make the prettiest women's beaded purses. They didn't sell them-just gave them to anyone who would want them, I had one.
"Dad had a hardware store on the north side of the square, but I am not sure of the exact location. I know the store had a balcony---I remember that so vividly. In those days, all stores on the square would remain open until 9 p.m. on Saturday night. The wives would put the kids in the car, go to town and park in front of their husband's store until closing time. People would walk around the square and if they knew you, they would stop at the cars and visit. When Dad locked up the store he would walk up to the City Drug, buy a quart of ice cream and the Sunday Oklahoman newspaper, before going home.
"Concerning the, Depression years and the misery it brought, our young people of today would only pop their gum and say `Cool man.' They will probably never have to wear cardboard in the soles of their 'Keds.' I do believe the only realistic book I ever read or movie I ever saw about those sad days was Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
"Every Christmas my son gives me books plus gift certificates to Hastings. I mention this because last Christmas he gave me Ernie Pyle's War by James Tobin and Bill Mauldin's Army, which consists of very, very funny cartoons. Do you remember Willie and Joe? (They were cartoon characters made famous by Mauldin's art work in the Armed Forces newspaper, Stars & Stripes, during and after World War II, and I for one certainly do remember them.) The book about Ernie Pyle is just great. (Mr. Pyle was a syndicated columnist who became known as the GI's favorite during that same war. He was a civilian war correspondent but was killed by Japanese enemy action in the Pacific. The Journal used to carry his articles.)
"I am a charter member of the World War II Memorial to be built in Washington, D.C.," she adds. Elfreda just recently turned 84 and realizes she may not live to see the Memorial completed, but she is doing what she can to make certain the men and women who served in that war are remembered. My thanks to my friend Elfreda for providing this information.