Musings from the Hill/Jan. 23
Fifty years ago President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Poverty is still with us: the gap between rich and poor is more pronounced than ever. Most of our national legislators are millionaires.
Pockets of “Appalachia” are all over the country today. If one does manage to obtain a college education in Appalachia, hoping to obtain a better job, usually they leave the area because no better jobs exist. How well I recall seeing families staring with hopeless eyes at our passing car in those days of the Great Depression. On a dusty unpaved road we would see small plank tables, often attended by a shoeless child, on which sat for sale a few tomatoes or jars of honey.
A brother-in-law from rural Georgia said when he was 6 he rode a mule beside rows of cotton, helping with the crop. An older brother, who grew and hopefully sold strawberries, bought him his first pair of shoes when he gave an oral presentation in fifth grade. He was barefooted in the winter and wrapped his feet in tanned hides when he fetched the cow or walked to school. Along came WWII: he joined the army and achieved a college education as a pharmacist. He also paid a sister’s way through college. Eight children survived, achieved middle class status and became homeowners.
How well I remember the Great Depression! My father and my mothers’ father no longer had jobs and the bank took possession of our large home. My mother and five children moved in with our grandparents. More and more families today are moving in with relatives to make ends meet. We have spent millions on foreign wars and in this freezing winter thousands are homeless and thousands more are struggling to buy food and pay bills. Middle-class Baldwin City’s food pantry struggles to meet its food needs.
I was graduated from high school, age 17, in 1937. My older brother received money to attend college from my mother’s brother-in-law who was vice-president of his father’s company. This was a loan, which he repaid. College for me was not even considered. My fourth-grade teacher married her sweetheart and was immediately fired. Only one job was permitted and her husband was working.
In Philadelphia I stood in lines four blocks long trying to obtain a job as a clerk in a big department store. Finally I landed a job as a “soda jerk” in our local drug store. I paid room and board to help support our large family. Mother signed papers enabling my younger brother to join the Merchant Marine Academy at age 16. He had been an air-raid spotter in the church tower during his high school years. The port of Philadelphia was a prime target. When air-raid sirens sounded, off went all lights and down came the black out curtains on all windows. My brother made dangerous runs to Russia and often saw dead men floating in the water from torpedoed merchant ships.
We had ration books and many things were in short supply. Neighbors regularly swapped food stamps. I do not remember it as an unhappy time although I know my mother was devastated because my father never returned. He was unable to face his changed status in the family. I never heard my mother cry or complain or say a word against my father or her lost way of life. She was a remarkable woman. I honor her.
Those who grew up in the “go-go” days have no idea of the sacrifices and hardships endured by those who lived through the Great Depression. Thank you to President Johnson who initiated the alphabet soup of agencies (WPA-CCC among them).
They taught good work habits and work ethics to many. The stadium at Baker, I believe, resulted from one of these agencies, as did the dam creating the water-shed lake behind our home in NJ. The “go-go” generation must learn the difference between NEED and WANT.
Thank you to the many who helped me while I was snowed in on the hill. I hope to never again miss a “deadline." See you around town — weather permitting!