On October 24th, 1929, Roy hurried home from work looking forward to a relaxing evening. He scooped up the newspapers from on the doorstep before entering the house.
Mae came out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dish towel. “How was your day?”
“Busy,” said Roy. “How about yours?”
“Oh, you know the usual housekeeping chores.”
She came over and gave him a kiss and nodded toward the rolled-up newspaper in his hand. “The children are upstairs doing their homework. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a few minutes to relax and enjoy your papers before they come down for dinner.”
Roy sat in his easy chair and unfolded the paper. He liked keeping up with the news and subscribed to both the Puyallup Herald and The Tacoma News Tribune. Bold headlines topped The Tribune.
‘Dark Day on Wall Street. Conditions almost panicky as millions of values vanish every minute.’
Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. Thank goodness I don’t have anything invested in the stock market.
Over the next few days, the news grew gloomier as the paper reported increased losses in the stock market. By the end of the year, stocks had dropped $15 billion. Remembering how destitute the recession of 1893 had left his family, Roy worried a bit.
Still life for the next 10 months hummed along normally. He continued to work for the logging camp near Crocker. His job as a saw filer provided better pay than the back breaking logging work he’d done in his younger years. The children grew and brought joy into his and Mae’s life. She still had asthma attacks, but in between they had good times.
His mother had moved to Orting a couple of years earlier in order to get the rations entitled to Civil War veteran widows. On a Friday in late July of 1930, he dropped the children off at her house on his way to work, to spend a long weekend with their grandmother.
The next morning he and Mae were enjoying a leisurely breakfast when someone from the nearby grocer rapped on their back door.
“Mr. Caple, Mr. Caple, come quick you have an urgent phone call.”
Roy hustled out the back door and took a shortcut across the yard to the corner store on Pioneer Street.
Mr. Bryant, the store owner, nodded to the receiver lying beside the phone box. “I think it’s your Iva she sounds hysterical?”
Chills ran up and down his spine. With shaking hands he picked up the receiver and spoke into the box on the wall, “Hello.”
“Daddy,” bawled Iva. “You have to come quick, it’s awful.”
She was so hysterical he could barely make out what she was saying, but evidently something had happened to his mother and the neighbor was with her.
“We’ll be there as fast as we can come, try to calm down.” He hung up the receiver and dashed out of the door.
Mae was pacing in the yard when he crossed the street. “What’s happened?”
“Something’s wrong with Mother. I couldn’t make out much from what Iva was saying but the neighbor is there.”
I’ll get my purse and be right out,” she said, as he headed for their Model T.
When they got to Orting, they found Iva crying in the yard.
Mae wrapped her arms around her. “What’s happened?”
“I don’t know, It’s grandma. Mrs. Wilson called the doctor, he’s with her now. She got up from bed like usual and told me to sleep a while longer. But when she came back, she talked really funny, I couldn’t understand anything she said. She got in bed and then she couldn’t get back up.”
A stroke, thought Roy as he hurried into her house. In the bedroom he found the doctor bent over his mother. He turned his head toward Roy when he entered the room. “Are you her son?”
“Yes, is it a stroke?”
He nodded. “I’m afraid so. I doubt she’ll ever recover. She won’t be able to stay here.”
Roy decided to move her to the old Meeker Mansion which had become a home for Civil war veteran widows. That way she’d be close enough to check on daily. On August 5th, 1930, she passed away peacefully in her sleep.
A few days later the family gathered in Orting’s soldier’s cemetery to say their good-byes as they laid her to rest, on the gentle slope of a hill, next to his father.
Bereft himself he tried to give comfort to his sister Lida who took the loss of her mother especially hard.
In the years ahead Roy would think of his mother’s death as the beginning of the lean years, the bad years.
By 1931 the full brunt of the stock market collapse had hit Puyallup. Industry after industry curtailed operations or went out of business. The logging operations where he worked shrank and then stopped.
In 1932 Roy found himself out of work with no prospects of another job. Their small savings dwindled as he and Mae struggled to keep food on the table. Thankfully there was no mortgage on their house to worry about.
During the 1930’s most homes in Puyallup used firewood for heat. Roy decided to lease some of the logged off land on the hills above Orting. The big trees were gone but plenty of small timber had been left behind that he could cut he could cut for firewood. He’d take orders for cords of wood or sell it on the streets. Sometimes all he got was 5$ per cord. Poor wages, but nearly everyone in town was in the same boat. Sometimes he found work filing a few saws for loggers and or helping bring in a farmer’s crops. In the summer the family picked raspberries and then blackberries. If they worked hard, they could bring in as much as a dollar or two each day
As much as possible he let the money the children earned be used for their school and clothing needs. But sometimes it couldn’t be helped they needed a few of their hard-earned dollars to make ends meet.
Fortunately Mae was nimble with the needle. She kept herself and Iva in clothing by turning sugar sacks and old clothes into something new. Still many a night they went to bed with their stomachs unsatisfied by the meager portions the evening meal had provided. Roy loathed those nights. He had never wanted his children to experience hunger the way he had a times during his childhood. On top of that his wife’s health continued to be precarious.
The freight trains that rolled a block away from their home began to carry men hunting for work. Because their house was close to a junction the trains frequently slowed or stopped there making it an easy spot for men to hop on or off. A hobo camp sprang up on space near the tracks. Not a day went by without some of the men coming by their house looking for work in exchange for something to eat.
He and Mae were sorry they couldn’t give them any kind of work. But they did their best to see to it they never went away empty handed. Sometimes all they could offer was a carrot to help make soup or a cup of fresh coffee. His family grew used to hearing the Salvation Army group each Sunday when they came to the camp to pray and sing. The children thought it funny to watch the men hang their just washed underwear as the band played onward Christian soldier. Though the sanitary conditions were terrible, the camp was peaceful.
Mae canned vegetables from their garden to help get them through the winters and they picked berries together as a family wherever they could find free ones.
In the spring when their stock of home canned vegetables grew low Roy donned his leather gloves and picked nettles and other edible weeds. Mae cleaned and cooked them into a kind of edible spinach. His children didn’t care for it. But in lean times any food for free was welcomed.
One time he asked a farmer if he could have some apples knowing he was going to dump them as part of a government program to give growers more money.
“No,” said the farmer I can’t give them to you. “But I will tell you where I am dumping them.”
Different things like that got them by.
His sister had been subject for years to periods of melancholy which grew worse after their mother’s death. After a rest at the Western Washington Sanatorium in Steilacoom she seemed better but then her dark moods came back.
He and Mae did their best to help his brother-in-law with their three girls and cheer his sister up. Lida and Mae had long been friends and the two families got together often. Their two oldest children were close in age to Iva and Verle and they enjoyed playing together. The two men had much in common as Roy too struggled to keep his family afloat and cope with Mae’s asthma attacks.
Early in the evening of January 6, 1933, Roy took his son Verle over to his wife’s relatives’ home to help with some bathroom repairs.
He had just reattached the faucet to the sink when heard a knock on the front door. A voice said, “I’m looking for Roy Caple his wife told me I could find him here.”
Dread filled his body as he placed the wrench on the floor. “Why had Mae sent for him?”
He found his brother-in-law George McKay in the front room, wearing a pinched face and bloodshot eyes.
“It’s Lida,” said George as he broke down into sobs. “She’s gone.”
“What,” stammered Roy.
“She took her life,” said George. “She thought she ’d become too much of burden for me.”
“No,” moaned Roy as he covered his face with his hands. “How could she think that? We all loved her so.”
“I left the girls with Mae. They were the ones who found her. I’d given anything for them to not have been the ones to find her.”
On January 10th the family huddled once again around a graveside, this time three brothers minus their baby sister.
- Most of the information on the depression years in this chapter came from both my dad’s and aunts writings and discussions I had with them. Both wrote and talked of being with their grandmother the day she had her stroke. Both wrote and talked of the hobo camp near their home.
2. My dad told me how he had gone with his Dad to help a relative the night they found his Aunt Lida had passed away. And her two oldest daughters told me about how she had sent their youngest sister to school with them that day. And how they were the ones who found her hanging in the attic.