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John Vachon/Library of Congress

Greendale, Wis., September 1939.

Profiles: Luanne Durst

Saturday, December 24th, 2011 

Born 1931
Rice Lake, Wis.

Her father ran a grocery store during the Depression.

Many people owed my father money. He wasn’t rich either, because people weren’t paying him a lot. I know there was one lawyer in town — I’ve learned this now — who really owed us a lot of money.  It just was hitting everybody. 

I heard this story later and I didn’t realize it had gone on, but the priest one Sunday said something to my father about the fact that he had the store open on Sundays, and that was something that was kind of discouraged in the church. I guess my father got kind of mad, and said if you want money in my envelope, you just leave me alone, basically. And I know my mother wasn’t real pleased, but I can understand that. It was one of those things. 

I just adored my father, and he was at work it just seemed like all the time. He’d be home, but it just wasn’t enough. He was just really trying to make that store go. And he did. 

[My father] died, I think, within five months after it was discovered he had cancer. He still had the store until just before he died. I have one brother who came home from medical school to help close the store and try to sell it. He also tells how he went to see some of the people — including that particular lawyer — who still had never paid their bills. He got treated pretty roughly by a couple of people. I don’t know how many really actually then paid up. By that time it was 1950, and of course things were getting much better, particularly after the war.

We at least had our house. It was adequate for us. A nice big house, a nice big yard to play in. I know it was an uncertain time. My father had to work so hard, and my mother tried to save so much. But I keep thinking it’s the same for families now, so uncertain.

Maybe I’m just pessimistic, but I just think that there’s so much injustice right now. Back in Depression, everybody was poor, and I think it’s pretty close to that right now. Unless somebody is very rich. I don’t think there are many people who are sitting comfortably right now. 

Interview by Kat Aaron

This profile was produced with help from sources in the Public Insight Network from American Public Media.

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The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

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