Stone Mountain: Bartering makes a return in hard times

When the stock market plummeted in 1929, unemployment went through the roof, going as high as 40 percent in many industrial regions; 25 percent was not unusual. There were no safety nets; no agencies providing unemployment payments and food stamps. Social Security was unknown. Soup lines provided most of the meals for the jobless people who lived in cities. Once a month you could go to the county seat and get a free bag of rice, a slab of streak-o-lean, a gunny sack of potatoes, a 5-pound tin of flour and 2 pounds of oleomargarine mix.

Those people in rural areas were better off because of farming and hunting; there was more food to be had. We trapped rabbits, fished, seined for turtles and crawfish and gigged frogs. We gathered walnuts and hickory nuts and found mushrooms in the spring with berries and hazelnuts in the fall.

In the farming community where I was born bartering was common: Rabbits were bartered for gas, milk was exchanged for honey. My dad traded a rifle for an old Fordson tractor. Eggs were traded for sorghum. I killed squirrels and traded them to the owner of the hardware store for a box of .22 caliber long-rifle bullets. Swapping comic books was the only way you could read all of them. My grandfather traded an old swayback stallion for three goats. When we butchered hogs before winter, lots of trading went on. Since there was little money, bartering was a way of life.

I moved to Gwinnett County in 1976. Being somewhat reserved I have not met some of my neighbors. I had noticed one neighbor picking blueberries and blackberries along a fence in her front yard. Her home appears to have been built long before mine. I had the feeling that she was one of the earlier residents in Gwinnett.

The other day, I noticed her picking blueberries. Compulsively, I pulled into her driveway and exited my truck. It was not long before I wished I had met her before. We had an informative talk about the history of Gwinnett. She was a fountain of information. Her home was built in 1943 on 53 acres, when rural roads were gravel. Smoke Rise did not exist.

She asked if I liked blueberries, and when I said yes she offered me some. I told her I would come back later on my way home. When I got back home rain had begun. After the rain ceased I picked some figs and walked back to get my blueberries. I handed the lady the figs. Her smile was instantaneous. She said she liked figs and that her fig trees died and she had not had homegrown figs for some time. Old-time bartering is great.

There are advantages to bartering; you dispose of something you apparently neither want nor need and acquire something you do want or need, and there is no sales tax. Swapping eliminates the need for garage sales. I have learned to be more neighborly. Her blueberries were tiny and the sweetest I had ever tasted. I’m searching for something else to barter for more of my neighbor’s blueberries.

Bill York lives in Stone Mountain. Reach him at