Two different experiences mark an era

By Meghan Smith
February 5, 2009

Shannon Keough

Widespread unemployment, near halts in industrial production and construction in conjunction with an 89 percent decline in stock prices led to a worldwide economic crisis called the Great Depression in America’s history.

One of six children growing up under the care of a widowed mother in the middle of the Great Depression, Catherine Arnesen, 94, remembers the Great Depression as “being not that bad.” Arnesen is still employed at Cabrini in the faculty support office.

Living in a “little country town” of Laurel Springs, N.J., Arnesen acquired a different view of the depression. “The photo of all those men lined up on the street in their hats and coats in the city; that’s what I remember. The cities had it much worse,” Arnesen said.

Arnesen explained that her father and grandfather passed away shortly before the Depression hit and were fortunate enough to leave a substantial amount of money for her mother to raise a family with. “I was a young teenager in the middle of it [the Great Depression] so I spent my time in school. Looking back, I don’t think it affected me much,” Arnesen said.

Ninety miles away in Bloomfield, another small town in N.J., Julia Giuliano, 80, tells a different story.

Giuliano’s father was in the hospital for the majority of the ’30s-before passing away in 1938, leaving his wife and 16-year-old son to raise a family of nine in America’s toughest economic hour. She explained there was no money coming in so her mother went to work sewing clothes. “She always cooked. No matter what, we had a homemade meal every night,” Giuliano said.

“Most of the time we only had the basics, what we could afford; but still, Mom always made sure dinner was on the table, whether it was just stew or homemade macaroni. She was always cooking. It was her sense of stability,” Giuliano said.

While Arnesen and Giuliano were from different financial backgrounds, both found their siblings joining the work force in order to help out.

“My sister, she went to work for $15 a week,” Arnesen smiled, “which was a lot back then.”

Similarly, Giuliano’s sister dropped out of school to work at a cigar box factory and her brothers “washed our neighbors floors, did yard-work, anything they could to pitch in.”

The resounding feeling both Arnesen and Giuliano expressed about the depression was not a somber one, rather one of family and community.

“We were a happy family, mom was always singing, always happy and always cooking,” Giuliano said.

Looking at America’s current economic state, both are hopeful that as a country we will prosper.

Arnesen has served as Cabrini’s faculty support secretary for over 40 years.

“I don’t see what we are going through now as a ‘depression'”, Arnesen said. “Most people are still going about their daily lives and that’s what we did.”

Giuliano, who has been battling cancer for the last three years, has an optimistic outlook for the future.

“It is in my nieces and nephews and their children that I see the same strong sense of family that got us through [the depression] and gives me the faith that things are going to improve,” Giuliano said.

Meghan Smith

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