Bessie Carson Grant was born during the Great Depression to a bootlegger and his wife, pilot car driver Millie Carson Sparks. Shortly after Bessie was born Millie gradually made fewer and fewer trips running her husband’s contraband whiskey. But despite quitting the bootlegging life she still had to give testimony in the great whiskey trial of 1935, which she did with little Bessie on her lap, as a three year old toddler (see song, “Lucy’s Grandma on Her Momma’s Side“.
During the Great Depression, children suffered a lot. They no longer had the joys and freedoms of childhood, and often shared their parents’ burdens and issues on money. For Christmas and birthdays, very few children were able to have fancy toy. Some families made gifts themselves, but many others could not afford food at all. For most people, the only way to celebrate holidays with gifts, were to window-shop. Since children lacked food, they often suffered from malnutrition.
There are two schools of thought about the impact of the Great Depression on children. One school holds that the hard times left young people physically damaged and psychologically scarred. The other insists that the decade of dire want and desperate wandering served to strengthen their character and forge what became America’s “greatest generation” of the World War II era. In fact, children’s experience of the depression varied widely, depending on their age, race, sex, region, and individual family circumstances. Nevertheless, certain patterns have emerged. Demographically, birthrates fell during the decade to a low of 18 births per 1,000 population, and children’s health declined due to the poorer nutrition and health care available.
Economically, many children worked both inside and outside the home; girls babysat or cleaned house, boys hustled papers or shined shoes, and both ran errands and picked crops. Yet the scarcity of jobs led record numbers of children to remain in school longer. Socially, high school became a typical teenage experience for the first time. A record 65 percent of teens attended high school in 1936; they spent the better part of their days together, forming their own cliques and looking to each other for advice and approval. Thus arose the idea of a separate, teenage generation.
This is the sociological phenomenon that formed Bessie Grant. Yes, she was tempered in the crucible of economic hardship, but at the same time it caused her to develop an almost pathological concern for financial security. As an adult,a mother and wife, Bessie was prone to be frugal to the point of denying herself and her family any kind of “luxury item,” which might include a book, or candy, or anything that might represent fun.
Gradually she softened up, especially once she came to trust on the capability of her husband Walter Calahan Walker who was a hard worked and good provider. While Bessie may have scrimped on her children, of which she had four, she doted on her grandchildren. Bessie’s children were often heard to jokingly complain about how she never allowed them such-and-such that she happily acquiesced to when it concerned one of her grandchildren.
Bessie’s favorite grandchild was Lucy Bess Cooper, the youngest girl of her second child, Mae Ella. When she found out what happened to Lucy, it broke her heart and she never forgave Mae Ella for keeping so much of Lucy’s life secret from her (see song, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison“).
Bessie has seen her children grow up and their children grow up into fine people. She enjoys helping Mae Ella raise Lucy’s boy, McCoy, the one Lucy had in prison (see song, “Lucy’s Grandma“).
After Walter passed away in 2001, Mae Ella invited Bessie to move in with her, which she did.