We’re not down to bartering with matches.
Between the first and second world wars, before my grandparents immigrated to this country, Germany went through hyperinflation–a time when money was worth less and less, hour by hour. My grandmother, Marta, would stand in line on payday, get my grandfather’s check, cash it, and immediately spend the whole amount on something, anything, that she could later use as barter. Of course, everyone was doing the same thing and so often it was hard to find anything to buy. Once the only thing she could find was matches. She spent his whole week’s wages on matches, so many that she couldn’t carry them home. She had to hire someone to help her. Food would have been better. Someone was always willing to trade for potatoes or cabbage. But matches were better than money. Only fools hung onto their money.
Both of my grandparents told that story with pride. They survived. Marta managed to trade her matches for enough food and goods to get her family through the next week and the weeks that followed until they immigrated arriving in the New York City, with three small children, in 1933–not exactly a time of economic certainty for America either.
The same woman who banked on matches was also willing to bank on America at the depths of the Great Depression.
Of course, in hindsight it’s easy to see the wisdom of leaving Germany in 1933, but, at the time, her family in Germany thought she was crazy.
Sometimes it takes a story to help us keep perspective. That’s also the reason for this blog–homage to those little stories we don’t ever forget but sometimes don’t appreciate enough.