Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Tale of Jessie Allison Gobel - How It Still Resonates
My maternal grandmother wrote a short account of her life to give her grandchildren some insight on the world in which she had lived.  She was born in a little country town in 1883, so it was hard for us to imagine life in that time and place.  An important part of her story is how ordinary people fared before Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  I will quote her own words:
But alas; the first phase of my life is about to close.  I am seven years old and Ola and I are having lots of fun.  [This would be 1890.]  One day in April, the first to be exact, we were playing under the front porch when we heard a terrific blast.  Blasts were almost everyday occurrences, but this was not the usual, as Pa always gave the signal of "all clear" and sent one of the men to the house to tell Ma to get us inside.  [ David Crockett Allison was supervisor of a road building gang.]  We knew something was wrong.  Ma started down the hill and met men carrying Pa on a stretcher.  One of the buckets of powder [black powder used in blasting] had accidentally been ignited and several men had been killed and some injured.  The doctor from Iuka [Mississippi] said that if he hadn't had a wonderful constitution he would have died instantly.  He lived until the fourth, but never regained consciousness.  It was a sad day for us.  I am sure Pa had never considered the probability of leaving us at the age of thirty-four.  Few men carried life insurance at that time, so we were left not only bereaved but practically penniless.  Uncle Andrew, Pa's younger brother, came from Birmingham to help about the funeral, and Ma's brother John came to accompany us back  to Tennessee to Grandpa's home, after laying Pa to rest in a beautiful cemetery in Iuka [grave donated by his employer, who valued him].  The trip by train would have been an adventure at any other time, but we were all dazed and the goodies Uncle John bought for us on the train didn't taste very good.
For months after our return we were like chickens without a roost.  Everything was so different; but the thing most lacking was Pa's presence.  Understandably, there was a marked change in Ma, too.  Besides her loss she had been suddenly thrust into a home other than her own, with five noisy offspring.  We were made welcome, at least as much as is possible to accept that much change in number in the family. Our grandparents were kind, but we were soon to understand that there were rules and customs to live up to.
 Grandma mentioned life insurance because she later worked in an insurance agency.  I later realized that under the Workers' Compensation Act of 1911 the family would have had some monetary settlement.  Union activity and the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Law would make things much safer for road workers.  For one thing, we no longer use black powder (Civil War gunpowder) for blasting and have regulations about storing and handling blasting materials.
You say government oughtn't to regulate business - yeah, right!

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