My great grandfather was one of the many children who spent their early years during one of the United States’ most difficult times. Adults were not the only people who suffered during the Great Depression. It’s hard to think of children suffering, especially when they are your great grandfather, but when I close my eyes, I imagine scenes like this:
BB’s nine-year-old feet hopped across the hot dirt outside of his home. He was barefoot because it was a southern tradition to only where shoes when needed but also because shoes weren’t always available. “Ma, can I git another one?” he asked once he got back to the porch step, hoping for another piece of the candy she just gave to him and each of his siblings. “Not now, son,” she told him, “ya don’t need more than one anyhow. It’s not good for ya.” That’s what she always told him, but BB knew the real reason, so he didn’t push it. “Yes ma’am.”
The nationwide crisis affected the lives of many in South Alabama, but it did not take away the entire spirit of childhood from BB Norris. Burly “BB” Bascum Norris was born and raised in Covington County, Alabama, specifically around the Andalusia, Alabama area. He lived a life of 79 years, from October 11, 1922, to May 26, 2001. He had many roles: soldier during World War II, a fireman and chief of the Andalusia Fire Department, a brother to his siblings, a father to my grandfather, and a grandfather to my dad. BB was respected in Andalusia for his selflessness during his later years in life. Researching what my great grandfather’s life was like during the Great Depression, when he was a child, has helped me to understand where his generosity and work ethic rooted from.
BB was raised on his father’s farm and worked with his siblings for no pay. During the Great Depression, more help was needed than most years for southern farmers in the United States. Farming was at one of its lowest points in history, and the south was impacted by the decreases in crop and cotton prices. The Norris family likely struggled more than many northern families, due to their dependence on their farm to keep them alive. The Encyclopedia of Alabama further clarifies this assumption, stating that the “[d]epression’s impact on Alabama lasted throughout the 1930s and, for some Alabamians, into the early 1940s, which was longer than the nation as a whole” (Downs). Although the depression affected the whole United States, Alabama took a big hit, causing families like BB’s to suffer longer than ever anticipated.
BB, like the majority of his siblings, did not complete his elementary education due to the need on the Norris’ family farm. This was common for most Alabamians according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama: “Having less food, fewer clothes, and little money, rural Alabamians ceased going to school, church, and other social functions” (Downs). He had to sacrifice his education to pick up some of the workload for his family’s farm, and that is exactly what he did. Although BB has now passed, his brother Farris Norris recalls the childhood activities of the Norris family. My great uncle confirmed that BB and his siblings had to quit school. “We had to work on the farm,” he told me, emphasizing that they had no other choice given the circumstances of the economy and their family. When we discussed education, he talked about how they only learned what they needed to know because they had to work: “It’s hard. You don’t get too much schoolin’ like that.” When I asked Farris more about their education, he told me that working at that age was simply “all we could do to make ends meet.”
According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, “In the years after the Civil War, Alabamians, like many southerners, lived on the edge of poverty, a result of the disruption of the plantation economy and the subsequent rise of widespread sharecropping and farm tenancy, low-wage industry, and a lackluster economy” (Downs). The Norris family was one of many to suffer from the poverty that the Great Depression brought to Alabama residents, specifically farmers. Alabama farm children had to step up more than before. The depression affected much more than the economy: “Many farm families lived on the brink of starvation and bankruptcy during good years, so the Depression forced those on the land to focus on long-term survival” (Downs). Children, like my great grandfather, had to sacrifice their educations and their childhoods; they lacked sufficient clothing and food to simply live normal children’s lives during this time period.
Ploughing the crops was one of the many ways that BB helped his family on the farm. They farmed many crops including cotton, corn, potatoes, tomatoes and peanuts. BB and his family likely visited a store named “J. W. Shreve & Sons feed and farm supply,” which was mentioned in the Andalusia Star-News as existing during this time period (Andalusia Star-News). I assume that my great grandfather visited this supply store with his family during the 1930s in order to stay stocked on mandatory farming supplies, such as seeds to plant and feed for their cows and hogs. Even though life was difficult, my great grandfather and his brother were still typical boys and I think they must have found a way to make their work into play. In my mind, I imagine scenes like this:
BB gazed out of the window of his family’s home and spotted the hogs in the pen. His work was done for the day. He ran outside, barefoot, and climbed the fence. “Farris, git o’er here!” he exclaimed to his brother. Farris followed, and the two began chasing the hogs around the pen. A loud “Oiiiiiiiink!!!!” was heard among the laughter of the two brothers. Clara, the boys’ mother, noticed the boys in the pen: “If y’all don’t git cleaned up and stop harassing those hogs!” she hollered, letting out a slight giggle of amusement. It was enough to take their minds off of what was going on in the world around them, so she let them play for a little longer.
When the Norris brothers were not busy working on the farm, they were hunting and fishing. Farris recalls BB and their siblings searching for food when possible to feed the family. The Norris brothers used to walk to a creek down on their land and they would fish. When in season, they hunted for squirrels:
“Shhh, keep quiet,” BB whispered to his brother as a squirrel climbed from one limb of the tree to the next. He pressed the gun firmly against his right shoulder, aiming for the oblivious squirrel. The echo of the shot could be heard from the back porch step, signaling that there would be a meat to go with the potatoes for supper. “Bullseye,” BB muttered with pride. He shot it right in the head, leaving plenty of meat untouched by his bullet. He swept the squirrel’s feet up in his small hands and took it home to clean.
BB hunted quite often. It was both a hobby and a means of survival for him, and everything that the family ate came from this. They either killed it, caught it, or farmed it. That was what they had to do to survive.
During the Great Depression, BB and his family had to take care to preserve the food they harvested. Without refrigerators or freezers to keep their meals cool and preserved, they had to go back to the basics. They took what vegetables and meat that they had from their farm and canned it. Farris recalls that the family “canned food when it was in season that would help in the winter. [We] canned tomatoes and peas and meat.” When it was time to eat what was preserved in the canning jars, BB and his family used a pressure cooker to heat up the meals. It was also common to use creek water to cool and cook meals after they had been canned during this time period.
“Son, go check the garden and bring me the ripe ‘uns,” Clara called out to BB. He walked down the rows of tomatoes and picked the red ones, leaving the green ones behind to mature. The belly of his shirt was tight from holding the tomatoes like a basket, so he cupped the bottom with his hands and walked back to the house. His mother stood at the sink, ready to peel the tomatoes. The pressure cooker sat on the table, filled with glass jars almost ready for canning. “They have to be at the perfect temperature to keep well,” Clara told her son. He knew that canning was important in their family, because that was how they ate during the winter months. “Can I help?” BB asked.
Being a child with the weight of the world on his shoulders motivated BB to live a fulfilling and selfless life. After the Depression, BB held many roles that he is still known and remembered for today. His grandson Bobby, who is my father, remembers him as an old-fashioned soul who enjoyed spending time with his grand kids. They enjoyed fishing together, and it is was a hobby that had not faded with time. BB was also drafted into the Army during World War II and spent a portion of his life fighting for his country. Later, he joined the Andalusia Fire Department, where he worked alongside his brother Farris for many years. He excelled, becoming the Fire Chief. He learned how to work early in his life and used that work ethic to create the person that is BB Norris. His story is proof that good can come from bad situations, and the mark he has left on both his family (including those who never got the chance to meet him) and the people of Andalusia, Alabama is visible to this day.
Downs, Matthew L. “Great Depression in Alabama.” Encyclopedia of Alabama, 21 Apr. 2015,
Norris, Farris. Personal Interview. 31 Mar. 2019.
Thomasson, Curtis. “Simmons Family Were Residents of Andalusia during the 1930s.”
Andalusia Star-News, 3 Mar. 2012. https://www.andalusiastarnews.com/2012/03/03/simmon-family-were-residents-of-andaluisa-during-the-1930s/