Monday, December 24, 2012

Last Time the Rich Hijacked the Economy - My Father's Story
These are my father's memories of the money woes of the 1930s - caused by the same type of people who are doing it today.
  Most know the movies were silent until the late twenties and that color came to the silver screen in the late thirties, but I doubt they grasp the shock most of us experienced the first time we heard voices from the screen.  What these folks don't understand is how hard it was to come by the 15 or 20 cents required to get in a movie house if one went early in the day - at night the cost might be as high as 35 cents, a staggering amount then for a picture show.  By the time I was scrounging for picture-show money, most workers were fortunate to be making twenty to twenty-five dollars a week, and there were a dozen men for every job.  The thirties were hard times, I can tell you, but for fifteen cents one could dream in a movie and forget the hard times for a while.
If one was laid off at work, there was no unemployment compensation nor job bank to turn to; you were on your own in a non-welfare state.  Until the FDR years, there was no minimum wage law, and you worked for whatever a business was willing to hand out.  These were indeed the 'good old days', but only for a very few.
The economic difference between the twenties and the thirties was almost one of daylight and dark.  Hardly anyone really understood the 'stock market crash of '29', surely not us children, but every home I knew of suffered greatly, and even we kids knew the world had changed indeed.  For adults, the crash and the resulting depression (which forever altered the meaning of the word) was a life or death struggle, and quite a few of them never made it.  My family was more fortunate than many, for, while Dad was out of work for some time, he did land a career job in the Madison Water Works.  The loss of the home on Fairfax was a disaster he never got over.
In the first years of the '30s, I was able to see a host of men and young boys 'riding the rods' as hard-time hoboes.  I had not then heard of Woody Guthrie, but I knew the bad times he wrote about.  Mother fed many of these formerly well off people on the back steps of our home.  They, and the people I saw at the improvised soup-kitchens set up in Centennial Park are still clear in my mind.
And we have people in Congress who would see us like that again.  Raise your voice!   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What My Parents Told Me About Religion in Public Schools
Okay, I've about had enough.  I opened my email today to find this notice from Faithful America:
And speaking live on Fox News, Mike Huckabee said that this shooting happened because "we've systematically removed God from our schools." He added, "Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end, and we wouldn't have to call him to show up when it's all said and done."
These words are an insult to the victims, an embarrassment to sincere Christians, and a dangerous distraction from the national scourge of gun violence. Hateful and unchristian rhetoric like this has no place on a major television news network.
 Going to public school in the 1950s and early 1960s, I was exposed to plenty of prayers, special assembly sermons, and hymns with accompaniment - many of them contrary to what the Church of Christ taught and disturbing to me.  When the same rhetoric started up while my son was in public school, I decided to take a private poll of my parents.  Both went to Nashville Public Schools in the 1920s and 1930s.  Did they have God in school?

My mother recalled an occasional scripture reading and one address by a missionary just returned from China.  She also recalled a teacher stating that all the apostles were Baptists, which made her very angry because she was a Lutheran.  Regular prayers and Bible reading were definitely not part of her schooling.

My father's memories were even odder.  He could recall no scripture reading, public prayers, or religious assemblies that had made any impression on him.  What he did recall was that, when he attended Ransom School in the 1920s, the morning assembly always included singing of "Aurora, Goddess of the Morning".  How this came about, I don't know, but it caused no uproar from either Christian or Jewish students.  (Ransom at this time had a large proportion of Jewish students.)

Actually, I think Religion in School must have finally turned up when we started worrying about Godless Communism.  I remember well that I had just learned the Pledge of Allegiance when Eisenhower added the two new words "under God".  This was just like a grown-up, I thought, changing things when you'd just memorized them!

I was always taught the supreme importance of separation of church and state, and I saw for myself how religious exercises could make difficulties in school.  One year at Jere Baxter, we had Christmas and Easter pageants.  Being of the Church of Christ, I was forbidden to participate in these.  My mother arranged that with the teachers.  I felt cheated, of course - all those costumes!  The next year, no such pageants were presented.  I suspect this was the influence of the ever-vocal Jehovah's Witnesses, whose children attended public schools.

For certain, we have not always had the Bible and piety in public schools. 


Friday, December 14, 2012

Blanche Greene Peay - A Poor Kid in the City
This is my father's mother, a rare portrait taken when she was about 17.  She probably paid for it out of her earnings; she had been working since she was 11.  Most of her earnings went to help out at home.
My great-grandfather Greene worked for the railroad, but he died young at a time when there was no such thing as a pension.  His widow (the lady my father wrote about) was left  with a house, three small children, and her parents to care for.  Great-great-grandfather Greene had made what turned out to be a bad career choice - he was a cobbler.. About halfway through his working life, everybody started buying cheaper factory-made shoes.  He still occasionally got a commission to make a pair of shoes and presumably helped with the heavy household chores men normally do.
Blanche's mother Nettie and her grandmother Parthenia immediately started taking in boarders; plenty of railroad workers wanted a room near their work.  They also took in laundry and sewing - anything to make a few pennies.  The household was so busy that no one noticed when little Blanche, sent out to draw water from the well, let the well handle get away from her.  It hit her on the back of the head and knocked her out.  When she came to, she got up and drew the water.  No one had missed her.
Jessie Allison Gobel was lucky to grow up in the country, where school was part of the agricultural year.  She spent plenty of time chopping weeds, but also got a high school education.  Blanche went to elementary school in the old Falls School Building (now a restored historic monument), but she never got farther than the sixth grade.  Her mother sent her out to work.  At eleven, she was sticking labels on coffee cans for Cheek Neal Coffee Company.  She was so small her fellow workers could put her into a 50 pound coffee bin and close the lid.
There was no such thing in those days as vacation or sick days.  I still have a very courtly letter written to her by one of the company owners at about the time this picture was taken.  He wrote that he understood she had been sick lately, and that she could spend a week convalescing in Franklin (where my grandfather's relatives had a farm) without losing her job.  Everyone appreciated her hard work and good example, he said.  She cherished this letter.
Of course, she met my grandfather, Joseph Baugh Peay, at Cheek Neal; he eventually became their chief coffee roaster.  As was expected, she quit work upon her marriage, and my grandfather took on the responsibility for her mother and her surviving grandfather.
Would you want to live in a world like this?    

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!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What My Mother Taught Me About Social Security
Mama (Eugenia G. "Bonnie Gene" Gobel Peay 1920-2004) knew all about what it meant to be without income when you were old.  Her maternal grandmother was a frequent guest for months at a time, though Granny Allison preferred to stay with her oldest daughter nearer Nashville.  But she was not the only poor relation who came for long stays.
Mama's family lived in what was then the country (1102 South Graycroft, Madison, TN).  They lived in a wooden house of six cavernous rooms with an outhouse and a farm.  Nobody had much during the Depression, but they always had food, so poorer relatives came and went.  I asked Mama how in the world the family managed to live like that.  "We just fed whoever turned up," she replied.
The relative who impressed her most was her Aunt Ellen (actually the daughter of her great-grandfather).  Aunt Ellen Elmore would come with her trunk, stay a few months, and then go around the rest of the rota of relatives.  She had been born in Eagleville in Rutherford County and had never married.  All the Elmore family possessed sewing skills, and Aunt Ellen had worked as a dressmaker for as long as she could work.  There was no pension.  She was, not unnaturally, a cross and snappish old lady, and Mama was the only person to pay her much mind.  Mama loved to listen to her stories.
In the mid 1930s, Congressman Jo Byrns managed to steer into law a measure that gave Aunt Ellen a small pension, about $7 a month.  When the Congressman came to Nashville, Mama was one of the schoolchildren taken to meet him.  She shook his hand.  When Aunt Ellen found out, she said, "Let me shake the hand that shook the hand of the man that got me my pension."
I still have among the family papers the opened out envelope Aunt Ellen used to write a note to congratulate Mama on her sixth grade graduation.  The note had $1 in it - a touching sum.
Now, imagine being left like that in your declining years, and go call your congressperson.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What My Father Told Me About Social Security
My father, Fulton L. Peay (1919-2001) had very strong opinions on Social Security and Medicare.  These were largely based on his experience as a child with his widowed grandmother living as a member of the household.  He wrote his memoirs of this at my request:
This was before the days of Social Security, and, aside from my father, Nannie had no income at all.  My Dad would not welcome her other children on the place [Note: They did not contribute to her support. CFH], and it was a sad and painful thing to my Nannie, something I learned early on.  I suppose providing her a home and clothing seemed to Dad all he was required to do, and so Nannie had scant walking around money of her own.  One result of this was she learned to write a long letter on what was then a penny postcard, using eyeglasses she bought from the dime store - but she never complained, to my knowledge.  She helped Mother cook, clean house, do the sewing on a machine she could make all but sing (It was a Singer sewing machine).  She nursed me when I was sick and comforted me when I was scared, which was often.  She went to bed with the chickens and rose with the birds all of her life, making the morning coffee which she drank with the steam still rising. 
It is my observation that there really were never any 'good old days', nor a house large enough to hold more than one generation of adults with ease.  I am also happy that true democracy has brought us Social Security and Medicare, and the righteous conservatives may refuse it if they choose and justify their violent opposition both then and now.  There were no 'good old days'.

I will say for my dear Father that, even in the dark days of the Hoover depression, when he and untold thousands were out of work for so long, he never once considered ditching my dear Nannie upon a state which was itself broke and destitute.  In those dark days,  Nannie must have felt her dependency very much, as her other children and their families were as bad off as the rest of us - and there was no one to help.  My Mother's faith in God was solid, and she provided the moral support when she must not have had anything in her but blind faith, and Nannie was ever quietly supportive to me.  Perhaps these dark days were, in a way, their finest hour.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cats and Mirrors

Cats and Mirrors
Since I have two mirrors in my bedroom, I get some interesting cat effects.  I'd get more, of course, if the cats would cooperate, but they usually run off or change position when I come up with the camera.
The two in these pictures often sit like this.  They like to be close together and interact with each other frequently.  Nubi, the long-haired black cat in the lower position, is in no way related to top cat Hollywood.  In a way, they are rivals.  In winter, they often play push-paws for a good position on the bed. Both are neutered males.
I especially like the top picture, where you get three images of Hollywood.  I wish I could have gotten a clearer shot, but cats are lousy models
One reason the two are close is that Hollywood has a large semi-bald patch at the base of his spine.  Since he is otherwise in exuberant health and has a filthy temper, I've no desire
to try to get him  into a carrier to see the vet.  He spends much of the winter under the cover, with Nubi curled up on top of him.  Often the boys sit back to back.
Do they know they are the same color, I wonder?  Do they know how fabulous they look together?