Families that live with, or close to, their extended family can attest to the enrichment provided by a close relationship with aunts, uncles and grandparents. In general, spending time with senior citizens can help us better understand our past and shed new light on our future. Despite the age gap, seniors can relate to adolescents in many ways—they’ve been there before.
You may think that conservation and recycling are fairly new ideas that have become popular in the past 10 or 15 years. Talk to your grandparents or anyone who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and you’ll learn some things that may surprise you. In those days, there was a worldwide movement of conservation and recycling.
The world was far different back then. We didn’t know much about pollution and global warming. But even back in the 1930s and ’40s, Americans demonstrated that they could conserve, recycle and change their day–to–day behavior when necessary. These ideals have carried forward to the present day. In fact, many senior citizens are very careful about spending their money and not wasting food as well as reusing clothing and household items.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment rose to 25 percent and many Americans didn’t have money to buy essential items, like food and clothing. They learned to conserve and make the most of what they had.
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, the government started a rationing program. Rationing means only allowing people a limited amount of certain things. Each family was given a book of rationing stamps that limited the amount they could buy when purchasing food, gasoline and other items. Drivers not directly involved with the war effort were limited to four gallons of gasoline per week. So even back then, people were encouraged to use buses and trains.
There was also a big recycling program. Our government encouraged people to save certain materials, like scrap paper, metals and rubber, and donate to the war effort. The paper was used for packing equipment and weapons. Metal was recycled and used to manufacture bombs.
Children went door–to–door in their neighborhoods and collected these items. It not only helped the war effort but built a strong sense of community. You could say that today’s recycling movement may have actually started in the 1940s.
Conserving energy wasn’t a big issue in those days because we didn’t know as much about pollution and global warming, and we didn’t use nearly as much energy. Most homes and businesses were not air conditioned and the selection of electronic devices was far less. In fact, electric refrigerators didn’t become popular until the 1940s. Before that, many people used ice to refrigerate food. Televisions weren’t widely used until the 1950s. So the demand for electricity wasn’t nearly as much as it is today.
By learning what went on in the 1930s and ’40s, we can gain a greater understanding of today’s world. Talk to your grandparents, neighbors or other senior citizens and they’ll be happy to share stories of the good old days. You might even want to volunteer time at a nursing home or senior center. Our senior citizens are survivors. They lived through a depression and a world war, and there are many important lessons to be learned. The lessons you learn from speaking with a senior, and the conversation itself, will undoubtedly enrich your life.