Life in Conklin, 1931-1935

From the unpublished autobiograpy of James McNitt, 1992

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James McNitt's text Bill McNitt's annotations
There was no question of my going on to college; the money just wasn't available. I made a stab at it by taking a semester of German at Junior College night school in Grand Rapids. Once a week I would ride in with the delivery man who sold Conklin creamery butter to the Grand Rapids stores.  I stayed with the aunts overnight and attended class, then rode back with him the next day. It was an awkward arrangement, and I gave up after completing the semester.
I was relegated to working in the store, as I had done during previous summers. With the Depression in full swing, business was gradually going downhill. The farmers had little cash and could not pay their bills. When they got a little money, they would stock up at the A. & P. in Coopersville. We accepted eggs in trade. Along with other banks all over the country, the local bank closed. It would eventually reopen, although many banks didn't. The Coopersville Observer, Friday, July 31, 1931, included the following in an article about Conklin: "Although the McNitt family have for many years been identified with the history of this locality, W. T. McNitt had wandered from the community and taken up other work. During his wandering he enjoyed a varied experience having been employed for a considerable length of time in the railway service and as a traveling salesman and was for some time in business in Grand Rapids."

"About three years ago Mr. McNitt felt the urge to return to the home fields of the clan McNitt and opportunity presented itself in Conklin. He was fortunate in being able to secure the large and well lighted brick store room formerly occupied by R. H. Smith Mercantile Co., and the wide knowledge of merchandising gained during his experience as salesman and in the conduct of his Grand Rapids business has stood him in good stead in his business venture in Conklin."

"In his store there is abundant opportunity for the display of his choice and varied stock of merchandise and he has utilized this opportunity to the utmost with the result that he has given his customers a store that is up to the minute both in quality of goods handled and in present day merchandising methods. He believes in putting the goods he has for sale where the prospective customer can see for themselves and this belief he has put into practice. His method of doing business is meeting with the success it warrants."

Life in a small town, even during the Depression wasn't too bad. We lived first in a house on Main Street, later in an upstairs apartment directly behind the store. At the rear of the store was an outdoor privy which served both the business and the apartment. Behind the house was a water pump. It was my job to carry water up the stairs as needed
We had many friends, chief among them. the Borgman family who lived outside the town on a farm. They had several children. The oldest, Velma, was married and lived in Muskegon. Byron was away most of the time in the army. Leonard later joined, but was eventually discharged as being unsuited to army life. Johnny, nearer my age, was my companion until he joined up with the C.C.C. We drove up to see him once in the north woods. Then there were Sarah and Dolly. A younger sister was killed during the time we knew them when her dress caught fire from the stove in the living room.

John and Emma Borgman of Conklin, Michigan

John and Emma Borgman of Conklin

The Borgman parents were named John and Emma.  Census records show Byron as the oldest child and the oldest daughter as Verlan or Verland rather than Velma.  No daughter named Dolly is listed, but perhaps the daughter named Emma was called Dolly to differentiate her from her mother.  The daughter who died in the fire was probably Bernice, who died on May 3, 1931 at age 10.
Another friend was Thelma Zimmer, who worked in the store until hard times forced Dad to let her go. Her younger sister was killed when a train struck the car in which she and two other girls were riding on their way home from school, which had been let out early. Only the girl sitting in the middle, Thurza Doane, survived. Census records shiw Thurza Doane's first name as Theresa.
There were social get-togethers, normally potluck affairs. The predominantly German matrons of the area were mostly excellent cooks and bakers. I learned to play cards, mainly pedro, 500, and auction bridge, forerunner of the modern contract bridge. I even learned, after a fashion, to square dance. In the interest of social activities, I joined the Grange, a farmers organization.
Glenn went on the road again, selling to stores a line of spices and extracts. The vanilla extract which was a mainstay of the line, was mixed and bottled at the aunts'. Many years later. when the house was sold, there was still a generous supply of it in the basement.
Dad still managed to get away each fall for deer hunting. He was accompanied by Charlie Batson, the local Ford dealer, along with his brother and others. Many years we had canned venison throughout the winter. My grandfather was still hunting regularly when I was young.  When he stopped by, he often brought venison, squirel, rabbit or other meat for my mother to prepare.
I forgot to mention above the local pool hall, where I learned to play a passable game of Rotation, also a variation of poker known as Freezeout. Each player is given 25 chips; the one who first loses his chips pays. This was Bob's Tavern, run by Bob Jablonski.
Among my duties in the store as a clerk were cutting meat, filling gallon jugs in the back room with vinegar or kerosene, grinding coffee, and measuring and cutting yard goods. During quiet periods I had plenty of time for books and magazines.