Foreclosure 1929

This is a real live story from my own life. When I was a child we lived in Reading, Pennsylvania, in a neighborhood with lovely homes. My father built houses. He would buy a piece of property and build a house on it and sell it. And I guess you would say he was a real estate contractor, real estate salesman and contractor of new homes. My father made a very good living. We had a large home and my father owned the first car in town.

We lived across the street from a grade school and of course when you live across the street from the grade school you get to see all your friends and so I knew about a lot of people and when their children got sick they would have a sign on their door - the health department would put up a sign that would say “measles”, “mumps” or whatever the quarantine was that was put on the house at the time of a childhood disease, even scarlet fever and chicken pox. So I was growing up in this nice neighborhood and all of a sudden we had a sign on our door and it didn’t say measles, mumps, chicken pox, it said “For Sale, Foreclosure” which meant our house was going to be sold by the person who held the mortgage on our house. The Depression hit us hard and my father lost everything.

Well, this upset my mother just very, very badly. but there was no time for being upset. We had to immediately start making preparations for where we were going to go. Our house was going to be auctioned, we were not going to own the house, we had to get out of it and find another place to live. Well, my father got in touch with his brothers who lived in areas not too far away and he couldn’t seem to find anybody who would either give us a house to live in or let us come and live with them. But my mother talked to her sister who lived in Charleston, West Virginia and her sister said please come stay with us. They had a big house with a third floor with several bedrooms in it and they were nice enough to allow us to go to their house to live until we could get something straightened out in our lives.

We got all of our furniture taken care of by giving it to my father’s brothers who lived near by. When we got all of our belongings out of the house we got into the car to go to the train station so my family and I could go to West Virginia. I remember sitting in the car on the street waiting for the train to arrive and we sat there and were just a very sad group of people. Nonetheless, my mother, my 3 sisters and I got on the train and went to West Virginia and moved into our new quarters. My father didn’t go with us. He stayed in Pennsylvania, Reading, Pennsylvania. He stayed in order to get things straightened out in our lives so that we could reunite as a family.

Staying in my aunt’s house worked out pretty well, except that my aunt was a very high-strung lady. If you did something that she didn’t like she immediately told you in very, I would say, in a not kindly way and we were all pretty scared of her. We were especially scared when we realized that if her children did anything she didn’t like she had a little whip and she would get that little whip out and use it on their legs. And of course that didn’t feel very good but it scared me so badly that I was so afraid to do anything wrong because I didn’t want my aunt to use that whip on my legs.

So, I got through the first year of living there, I finished 3rd grade maybe, I think that’s what it was, and anyway by that time my father was able to bring us back to Pennsylvania and we started back to school just where we had left. That worked out all right as far as getting back home, to what I call our home, it was a different house but was our home area. And so we had a whole new neighborhood, a whole new group of friends. I would move many more times in the next few years. But my family stayed together, I did well in school and went on to college. My father continued to try to develop property but he never did very well a gain.

Jane Louise McGavin 2009

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