Audrey B. Carr was a child when the Great Depression hit. She turned 19 shortly after World War II began. And now, at 99 years old, Carr watches as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
Having lived through such extraordinarily trying times, she’s developed a maxim that she believes people today should hear: Don’t “sit and cry about everything.” Otherwise, “you’ll make yourself miserable.”
“And I don’t do that,” Carr said. “I make me happy and smile.”
Carr hasn’t been able to leave her room much lately at Heritage Place Senior Living in Bountiful because of social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. She talks on the phone with her son, Harold Carr, each day. To visit in person, he makes an appointment for Heritage Place staff to bring his mother to a room where she can see Harold through a window and talk to him on a phone.
Harold Carr said his mother has handled the quarantine “very well,” adding that she’s a strong woman.
“My mom still motivates me by example. She never complains about pain or health. She never complains about situations. She just keeps moving forward,” said Harold Carr, who lives in Salt Lake City. “Whenever I have a ‘down’ day or problems, I remember her attitude and try to keep going myself.”
Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the Great Depression in the 1930s, Audrey Carr, then Audrey Deane, said she scoured garbage cans in the rich areas to “find things to eat and bring to the house.”
“We know what it was to be hungry,” she said.
Her father, Harold Deane, worked as a taxi driver. Her mother, Hortense, died of a gum infection in 1932, when Carr was still young. Penicillin, which could have helped her mother, was discovered four years earlier, but it wasn’t widely available at the time.
Carr stayed with her grandparents for a while during the Depression. Her grandfather worked as a trolley car driver, while her grandmother “had become paralyzed. So, I was the one to do all the cooking and the cleaning,” she recalled. “I was 10 years old.”
Later, she lived with an “old maid aunt” in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who had a house on a hill near some railroad tracks. When they heard the trains coupling, or connecting, people nearby ran to search for coal that was knocked off in the process. Carr wore her black “special dress” when she went to collect as much free coal as she could.
During World War II, Carr was a “Rosie the Riveter,” though she’s quick to clarify she didn’t actually make rivets. She worked for Wright Aeronautical Corp. in New Jersey and operated a lathe machine to build parts for the Boeing B-17 bomber.
“She ended up learning how to operate all 21 machines in the factory and was made a supervisor,” according to Harold Carr.
She married Venice J. Carr, from Centerville in 1945, less than a month after the war ended. They met while she was living with her younger sister, Estelle, and brother-in-law. Early one morning, Audrey answered the door when Venice came looking for her brother-in-law.
“We talked for a long time,” making a pot of coffee and smoking, she said. She was surprised when Venice said he didn’t smoke, since it was common among men at the time.
“I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I’m a Mormon.’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’” Audrey Carr said.
Carr moved to Bountiful with Venice. They had three children together, including Harold, in addition to her three children from a previous marriage. Venice worked at the family business, Carr Printing Co., and the couple later opened a book and gift shop. The two also loved competing in ballroom dancing together, according to Venice’s 2004 obituary.
Carr keeps busy now watching the news and “Jeopardy,” doing crossword puzzles and reading mystery novels. She prefers ones written by female authors “because the men’s are too gory.”
As she approaches her 100th birthday on Oct. 4, Carr isn’t sure how big of a celebration she’ll be able to have due to COVID-19, especially in a nursing home. In the meantime, she’ll keep her upbeat motto to find happiness and smile.
“We just have to do whatever is necessary,” she said. “Wash your hands frequently and all that stuff.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.