Forrest Bonham, my grandfather, owned an American Texaco gasoline
service station on Staples Street in Corpus
Christi in the 1920s and 1930s.. He and two brothers also each
owned a Bonham's grocery store in Corpus.
They all worked long, hard hours and survived through the Great
Depression, but not without difficulties as customers could not
always pay. Many citizens who couldn't pay their bills just up and
left, headed west in hopes of finding work.
Grandfather Bonham told me stories about Depression hardships that
I never forgot. The Depression was a terrible time few of us can
even imagine now, at least not yet.
Millions of people became unemployed and lost their homes. They
became transients seeking any work they could find. Millions stood
in bread and soup lines to keep from starving in those crushing
times of economic failure. Grandfather said the cause was greed,
too much money was held in the hands of the big rich who didn't
care about the working people.
Click on image to enlarge
Courtesy Barbara Duvall Wesolek
in the early 1930s, a man my grandfather had only seen around in Corpus,
not a customer, drove into the station and asked to buy a tire. My
grandfather advised the man he needed all four tires as his were dangerously
worn out. The man said he knew it, but he only had money for one tire
at that time. So my grandfather sold him the tire on credit, as was
the custom back them. Accounts were settled as agreed, usually the
first of the month.
He never heard from the man again. Instead, he soon learned the man
had gone that Saturday to all four of the gas stations that sold tires
and had bought one tire at each store. Then he left for California
on his four new tires, hoping to find a new life and work he could
not find in Corpus.
My grandfather was not upset about this, although it was a loss for
him and his family. Instead, he finished the story by saying the man
was a mighty considerate fellow to take the time to go to all four
places to buy a tire so no one station owner had to take the loss
for all four tires.
As for the grocery stores, some of his customers could not pay either
so he carried their accounts, meaning they could pay when they got
the money. Otherwise, they wouldn't have enough food to eat, he said.
He couldn't let them starve. Back then you looked out for your neighbors
and everyone was deep in the Depression together.
on image to enlarge
Courtesy Barbara Duvall Wesolek
I asked him
if they paid after the Depression was over or when they got a job.
He said, "Not a one!" He said that after many months or a couple
of years of not paying, when they got a job they not only didn't
pay, many went to his competitors instead. He said he thought it
was because they were too embarrassed to come back. He didn't ask
for the money they owed him.
Although my grandfather was a hard worker, he didn't hold grudges
or worry about any money lost to people who needed help. I think
that may be partly why he lived to be 94 years old, he had a good
heart and an open hand for everyone. Needless to say, his reputation
in Corpus was the best. He was respected by all who knew him, as
were his two Bonham brothers.
When I lived in Corpus
in the 1970s, I met several people who upon learning he was my grandfather,
told me their family would not have made it through the Depression
if it had not been for him. By then, only his brother, Otha Bonham,
still owned a Bonham grocery store in Corpus.
Otha enjoyed the same respect as Forrest Bonham, as well as the
financial success that came after the Depression for many who had
managed to survive the hard times.
December 30, 2016 column
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