Kirkland author recalls growing up during Great Depression in first book
By RAECHEL DAWSON
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
October 18, 2012 · 2:51 PM
During the Great Depression, it is said the motto was: “Someday.” “Someday I’ll get a job, someday I’ll have food for tomorrow. Someday I won’t have to worry.”
Kirkland author Billee L. Escott’s “someday,” when she was 7 years old, entailed having shoes and going to school.
Escott’s first book at age 87 was recently published on Amazon. And at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Parkplace Books she will speak with readers about her life during the Great Depression in a nearly 600 page book, “Someday I’m Gonna.”
“I’m not so much concerned with selling books,” Escott said. “I had an 11-year-old girl give a review and she was engrossed.”
Escott hopes to provide a glimpse of history that resonates with readers. She said that many people today have little knowledge of how bad it could be. She says those memories have affected the way she runs her life.
“You can’t put it to bed and forget about it, no,” she said. “Tomorrow, things may not be better.”
Better in the way of knowing if you’ll eat or if you’ll have shelter during bad weather.
It took Escott years to finish her book but when she sat down at her computer, memories flooded to 1932, age 7 and essentially being homeless.
“There were no jobs, nothing. Hadn’t been for some time after the 1929 crash,” she said.
So when the cherry picking season ended in her Michigan hometown, her father built a tent-trailer and her family of eight began to travel across the country in search of warmer weather, chasing jobs along the way.
“My mother had a 5th grade education, my father had none. So with no education, my father thought the United States was all like Michigan and he knew it was warm down south,” she said.
Living from crop to crop didn’t bode well. Her father sold chairs and other furniture out of tree saplings and Escott and her brother were taught how to catch crabs, which brought in 25 cents a dozen - good money at the time.
But as winter approached, the family of eight’s poverty forced them to live in a migrant camp with about 50 other people on an army base in Houston. The camp was riddled with disease. There were no toilets. Many families had a lot of children, six at minimum she said, and many newborns died.
“Right next to us, there was a couple that had 12 children. They had always lived there and had all their children there. Nobody had been to school,” she said. “There were families there who knew nothing more than living in a tent.”
Eventually Escott’s family was told to go back to Michigan just as cherry season had started back again. Six weeks later, they had enough gas to make it to Wenatchee where they would pick apples from the orchard, among other jobs.
Throughout her narrative, she speaks of family strife, such as her sister’s teasing or her mother’s temper.
“As I wrote the book, I thought to myself, ‘had I been in her shoes, six kids with no food, no money, wondering where you’re going to be tomorrow, would I had been any better?’” Escott said. “But when you’re a kid, you don’t see that.”
Escott said people back then were much less affectionate and had poor manners, but people today fail to take responsibility for themselves.
“At that time, if you wanted a handout - welfare had been installed - any job that was available was in the same department, so if there was any kind of a job, they’d give you enough food to last and you had to take the job,” she said. “It didn’t matter what it was. You had to take it. They need that now, don’t they?
“Maybe it’s a lack of motivation, and maybe the Great Depression motivated my family, I don’t know, but everybody did fairly well as a result. We could have ended up with nothing.”
Escott said all of the events are real in the book but sometimes, to keep things interesting, she got a “little reckless with the truth.”
“The Lean Years” and “The Best of the Lean Years” are in the process of being put together and her relatives in the East are “clamoring” for her to write the fourth.
“Billee Escott’s words are richly expressed with sweetness and humor unlike any other,” said her neighbor Sheila Edwards. “She’s an inspiration to me.”
But Escott acknowledges that she is constantly fighting time at 87-years-old.
“I think writing has helped a great deal to keep me going,” she said. “Like my father, I’ve always had a lot of energy.”
Escott owns four houses, including her Kirkland home, another two in Kirkland and one on Whidbey Island. She and her husband worked at The Seattle Times and she did office work.
Despite her longtime passion to write, she had no interest in editorial writing. Now, she lives near City Hall in a quaint home with her two white curly-haired dogs.
To buy Escott’s book, attend the book reading or visit amazon.com. Fore more information on the Parkplace Books event, call 425-828-6546.
Contact Kirkland Reporter Reporter Raechel Dawson at email@example.com or 425-822-9166 X5052.