When Mary Clemmer of Tampa was growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, it was a disgrace and socially unacceptable to rely on government welfare.
Clemmer, widow of the late mayor Jim Clemmer, grew up on a farm around Emporia. She was the eighth of 13 children. On top of that, her parents took in another youngster.
“It was depression time,” Clemmer said.
She grew up on a rented farm that had no electricity, phone, or running water. Wood was used for cooking and heat.
In winter, other rooms were closed off and only the kitchen and dining rooms had heat.
Evenings were spent playing games. Sometimes Clemmer’s father played his harmonica and bounced the children on his knees. Meanwhile, her mother sang and rocked the little ones to sleep.
Clemmer recalled a time when a neighbor boy was killed by a horse. Her mother waded across a river, walked to his parents’ home, and washed the blood and hair from the barn stall.
Another time, her mother made chicken noodle soup and carried it in a big iron pot across a field and creek to an elderly couple who were sick.
When an animal was butchered, some of the meat was given to neighbors.
“We were very poor in material things but rich in things that matter,” Clemmer said.
Almost all of their food was grown, hunted, or fished. Clemmer’s mother made clothing from flour or feed sacks. She once made a large casing and stuffed it with straw for a mattress.
“It poked us for a few nights,” Clemmer recalled.
She and her siblings walked two miles to school, carrying their lunches, even when deep snow covered the ground.
Her parents paid for schoolbooks, and students cleaned the school, not expecting any pay.
“Even when Dad’s crops were flooded out, he did not ask to be bailed out,” Clemmer said. “We provided for ourselves.”