The Kinder, Gentler Depression in Kissimmee Florida
Stories From Our Nation’s Past - The Kinder, Gentler Depression in Kissimmee, Florida - By Jack Miller
(excerpts reprinted from the March/April 1989 issue of The Sound Money Investor)
Readers are invited to read, re-read and share this article which was published in 1989. We are now 21 years closer to the planned Depression of this 21st Century. As Jack Miller asks: “Are you and your family and friends forearmed now that you are forewarned?” Do you have a usuryfree community currency in your community to facilitate local trades or exchanges? If not yet, then it is time to organize your economic lifeboat before their usury-based Titanic goes down.
Back in 1935, Kissimmee (Florida) was a far cry from the ‘Gateway to Disneyworld,’ it is now. It was a cowtown of about 3000 people with one main street, a library, a zoo, a movie and Lake Tohopekaliga. Those who had jobs either worked in the packinghouse, the retail stores scattered along our three block commercial district, or they were farmers, ranchers, or city employees. Most of the people didn’t really have jobs at all. They found work from time-to-time in the orange groves or doing unskilled work when it was available. For some reason, I remember it as a happy time, in some ways better than today.
Americans have forgotten small-town living in the hustle and bustle of getting ahead. Gathered from the reading I’ve done in today’s press, nothing strikes more terror in the hearts of investors than contemplation of another DEPRESSION. It’s no wonder. We’ve grown accustomed to spending what we’ll earn tomorrow to buy something today that won’t last until then. We’ve grown dependent upon government at all levels to bail us out when we aren’t able to attend college, run a business, hold a job or even invest on our own successfully. It wasn’t always like this, maybe that’s why things seemed better in the past.
Kissimmee was truly in the backwaters of Florida and except for the Miami-area and some of the more prominent beach areas such as Daytona, most of Florida was in the backwaters of America. It was rural with rural values. We saw little crime. Vagrants who drifted through town were expected to work for meals and a chance to sleep in your garage. There was no welfare. Neighbour looked after neighbour. Citizens looked after the town. Drunks were locked up in jail. We didn’t know the meaning of violent crime or even theft, for that matter. Maybe it was because there wasn’t any money to steal. Maybe it was because people wouldn’t tolerate thieves among themselves, and we all knew it. Maybe it was because we felt we were all ‘in the soup’ together, and we had to cooperate in order to make it through. Whatever the reason, Kissimmee survived and even exhibited some style doing it.
Let’s talk about our micro-economic system. Mr. Patrick was our dairyman. His cows didn’t know much about depressions, but they did know they had to be milked twice a day. Because there was no money with which to buy milk in town, Mr. Patrick would put it in bottles and leave it in a large wooden box in the back of the drug store. The iceman would put in ice and take milk in payment. Everyone else just left an I.O.U. Along with a list of milk they’d taken out. Then Mr. Patrick would trade the I.O.U.’s around town for the things he needed - groceries, clothing, movies, hardware items, feed. These I.O.U.’s were passed on in payment for other things and finally redeemed in labour or goods by the person who’d signed them It worked because everyone needed milk and it was in the town’s interest that Mr. Patrick be able to provide it. And almost everyone would take his I.O.U.’s.
I suppose you could say that Mr. Patrick had a ‘cash cow’ in his business. Each day more milk was produced, more I.O.U.’s written, more commerce done. In a way, his cows were sort of like the Fed, now. They kept on producing ‘currency milk’ at low cost, and our economy kept expanding.
There were more things going on than Mr. Patrick’s milk business. We had a Chevrolet dealer who’d let you drive a new car for six months while you made up your mind whether to buy it or not. And we even had a full social schedule.
In a small town, remember, this was before television and outside the range of most radio broadcasts, people learn to entertain themselves. And we had real stars, Buddy Ebson was from Kissimmee and he was a Broadway Star - a dancer. His dad decided to cash in on Buddy’s success, so he started a dancing school. Of course, we all attended.
My parents had been brought up on a farm, so we had a garden. We raised both chickens and rabbits which we ate and sold to neighbours. A dressed rabbit, ready-to-cook was worth 30 cents. Exactly the cost of a week’s tap dancing and ballet lessons for four kids. We also bought hair cuts, shoe repairs, and canned goods with rabbits and chickens.
Our town jail had a permanent visitor. He was a hobo who’d found a home, but without any work he was jailed as a vagrant. He knew how to play the saw, so in the pleasant summer evenings, we’d all take folding chairs and blankets and sit outside the jail while he played by tapping a hammer and/or drawing a bow across the saw to make music.
In better times, Kissimmee had built a civic club with two tennis courts. The Town Council budgeted enough money to pay for a large floodlight at night and the tennis courts became a community dance floor, a stage for Mr. Ebson Sr.’s dance recitals and beauty contests. Local musicians would play for dances. Orators would make speeches.
Remember, Kissimmee was a cow-town. Florida has always been a front-runner in the cattle business. Naturally, there were whip contests, wood chopping contests, and the Silver Spurs rodeo was started.
There were also water sports. Lake Tohopekaliga was full of fish. We used bamboo for fishing poles, bread for bait, and could bring home enough fish for supper anytime we wanted to. One of the best things about a depression, is that adults and children had lots of time to spend together. Even though much of this time was spent working; repairing the house; clearing lots; planting and maintaining a garden; and helping turn milk into butter, cheese and ice cream; it all seemed more like a game then work, because we all did it together.
We cut our own hair and made our own clothes out of patterned chicken feed bags. We picked wild black-berries and tame mulberries. We ate citrus fruit directly off the tree. We canned everything. My Dad and Uncle spent many waking hours trying to perfect a method of turning citrus juice of various mixtures into brandy.
Most of all, my impression is one of a community in which everyone cared for the other, regardless of whether we were rich or poor, Protestant or Catholic, black or white. The standards of acceptance were good citizenship, responsibility, and honesty.
Things grew much worse in the northeastern cities where people waited for Franklin Roosevelt to do something. In Kissimmee, out of sight and mind of government agencies, we took care of each other.
The Great Depression wasn’t the end of the world in Kissimmee, Florida. It was more a time of testing social values and individual self-reliance. They didn’t have unemployment compensation, pensions, Social Security, the G.I. Bill or low cost government loans. They had something better, an attitude which recognized that the only real security in this world is self-sufficiency, productive work and a strong moral foundation.
No one will maintain that a depression is going to be fun. It isn’t. It wasn’t. But it did offer insights into ways a family can adjust after they’ve lost everything but faith in themselves. Probably, the greater lesson is that wishing it weren’t true won’t prevent its happening. Nor will all the speeches made by all the office-seekers. Nor will the consensus of optimists who loudly proclaim that government safety nets will prevent our ever having to go through it all again.
Forewarned is forearmed. We now know that government excesses and controls caused the Great Depression, and that only the inflation of World War II and the full employment that the armed forces and defense industries provided really cured it. We also know that we’re in debt both privately and corporately at levels far above those of the 20’s.
It seems only prudent that we’d make preparations to limit the damage such a depression might cause by reducing debt, strengthening our community and family ties, and creating contingency plans as to how we’d weather such a drastic economic downturn out of our own resources. One look at the sea of red ink being generated by the government in this recovery year should convince even the most skeptical that promised safety nets may not hold in the event we re-lived those days of 25% unemployment rates and doubled income taxes.
NOTE: This article is also published in the booklet “Life Without Usury” which is available for $20.00 plus postage and handling from: The UsuryFree Network, P. O. Box 9333, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V1