Wednesday, September 17, 2008


David Seaton's News Links
Who knows where all of this is going to lead, but watching Wall Street and listening to some well informed Spanish economists -- and I have the privilege of knowing some of the best informed -- I got to remembering family folklore about the depression.

My dad's family were Middle Western farmers and money was always tight on American farms in the teens and 20s. FDR brought electricity and graveled roads to the farm and of course on a farm in Iowa there was always plenty to eat. Like during a war, things were tougher in the city.

On the other hand my maternal grandfather, a first generation German-American, was a city boy, trained in law and the young manager of a small steel mill when the depression hit and a year later he was selling shirts from door to door and going to the vegetable markets at closing time to buy cheap the limp vegetables that were not fresh enough to sell the next day. He finally got a job at Rand McNally printing atlases, set himself to learning the ins and outs of the printing trade, joined the printer's union, became a master craftsman, a foreman in charge of color quality and for the first time in his life, found happiness and fulfillment in using his hands, which he had never dreamed were capable of such skill. He cried like a baby when FDR died.

My dad, got out of university with a degree in mathematics from Ames just as the depression started and he couldn't find any work, so he joined the then tiny US Army and was sent out to field artillery at Fort Sill Oklahoma. His first Christmas away from home he spent drinking white lightning out of a fruit jar with a very solemn Indian corporal -- the only other human on the base -- in one of those hundred open toilet bathrooms they have in the army. He never could remember that New Years.

In those days they used French 75mm field guns drawn by six galloping horses: a picture right out of Frederic Remington. Since he was a farm boy, he was the only one in the unit that had any idea of how to harness six horses, so they made him a corporal the first day, by the end of the month he was briefly the youngest sergeant in the Army and then they sent him to the Artillery School at Fort Sill and he became an officer, the artillery school graduates of the prewar regular army were an exclusive mafia and my father was saddened that during the war,
(because he was one of a small group of men who were able to actually visualize a million units), he was transferred to quartermaster duty in the Corp of Engineers at the Pentagon, saddened, because out of reach of his artillery infrastructure and mafia he only finished the war as a Captain, while most of his fellow students at Fort Sill finished the war as generals. Bitched about that all his life.

I could ramble on and on, because as a child I heard so many stories from the Depression, that I sometimes think I lived it myself instead of the Golden Age between the early 50s and 1973.

Really, all the villains are the same today, but none of the "heroes" today have anything like the quality of either Hoover or Roosevelt. I mention Hoover, because, he was, in fact, a very noble and good man, who was tragically overwhelmed by events... nothing of a horse's ass like George W. Bush and for sure neither McCain or Obama have anything like FDR's class... if they even dreamed they did they would have to wake up and apologize.

It won't be the same, it never is, it might be worse, I don't think, if the depression finally comes, that it will produce the great books, film, or jazz that came out of the 30s, but if it doesn't lead to a world war like the last one, did I'll settle for that. DS

1 comment:

Marcy said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I too have been thinking about the vivid stories I heard growing up and wondering what it will be like for the millions of Americans who have never heard any first hand accounts and who have absolutely no clue.