Mary Pitt

In the Days Before – Part 4

Mary Pitt

Mary Pitt – age 30

It is easy to recall my days in school as a halcyon time, though the happiness was not, of course, unstained by some coarser events. But that is childhood, is it not? Mother delayed my entry into formal school by a year because, she said, I was ill with some sort of respiratory disease, but I have no memory of being ill. In later days, I teased her, saying that she had had a baby in the house for so many years that she delayed the “empty nest syndrome” as long as possible. This is not to say that I learned nothing in the pre-school years!

My youngest brother started to school when I was only in the toddler stage and, from that time was, like the other boys, spent either in school or working at tasks assigned by my father. This left Mother home alone all day, every day. And she was a garrulous talker, spinning our her stream-of-consciousness verbally in order to banish her own boredom and loneliness. And I had nothing to do but to listen and to absorb her life into my own memory.

I heard tales of adventure as her grandfather strode the decks of a freighter plying the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Hudson River as it made its way even deeper into the New World, bringing trade goods to the Indians and returning loaded with valuable furs as the result. He was following his father in the endeavor as did his many brothers and, between them, they established permanent residences and families ashore all along the boundary of what became Canada and the United States.

I heard tales of hardship as her mother accompanied her own husband, first to a logging camp in what would become the state of Washington and then to Oklahoma after the Land Rush where they lived in a “dugout” cabin on the arid plains and where my mother lived her own childhood. She, herself, had known both cowboys and Indians and shared her many memories of her daily life and that of her mother and her older sisters. Every tale was an entertaining movie in my over-active imagination and one which would be acted out in my out-of-door play in the summer.

When the day was over, the door would open and in would troop an assortment of brothers, eager to change out of their school clothes and go outside to do their assigned chores. Later, they would all return, accompanied by Father, to line the long kitchen table and eagerly fill plates with the result of Mother’s afternoon work at the wood-burning cook stove. Mother baked twelve loaves of homemade bread every other day and, on fresh-bread day the aroma would be a great appetite-inducer. There may have been no meat on the table but there would be Navy beans and home-canned vegetables, usually potatoes and, always, white gravy. Gravy was a staple in our diet since Father insisted on it, three meals a day, every day, while praising its “stick-to-the-ribs” qualities.

I do wish I could recall verbatim some of those dinner-table conversations but, fortunately, only snippets remain. If I had ever written anything like them, I would likely have been arrested for writing obscenities. But Mother listened carefully to learn of weather conditions, neighborly chit-chat, and political doings. She, too, was a farmer, being in charge of the gardening, chickens, and turkeys as well as attending to the milk, cream, and eggs that were produced to provide food for the brood.

After supper, all moved about the house, getting settled for homework time. This was my first school! I would move from brother to brother, asking questions and getting answers.

“What are you reading? What does it mean? How do you do that? Show me!” And, bless their hearts, I got real answers! I was shown unfamiliar words, told what they mean, and encouraged to study the letters therein. With my little slate and a short, grubby piece of chalk, I would approach a boy who was working on arithmetic and repeat the demand, “Show me!”

On occasional Saturday nights, our neighbors would show up and get set for a night of card playing. First, I was allowed to keep score for their games of Pitch. That was easy and already within my range of abilities but I yearned to also learn to keep score for Rummy, which required a good deal of multiplication as well as simple addition. I put the heat on my brothers, who obediantly taught me to multiply through the number thirteen!

At that time the school systems were set up according to “townships.” The State was divided by counties which were, in turn, divided into townships and each township maintained a school. These were simple one-room buildings containing desks, a wood-fired heating stove, and either a bell tower or a little hand bell, according to what the district could afford. The first school I attended was in a larger township and had a two-room schoolhouse.

Teachers were hired on a room, board, and tiny salary basis. Almost all were young women and a new teacher created a bit of excitement among the young men of a community! The room-and board were usually contributed by a local taxpayer who had an extra bedroom. Only a dedicated person would have dared accept such an offer but these were hard times and jobs were scarce. During the coldest winters, the teacher was at the school early so that the fire in the big stove would be rekindled the little fingers could be warmed in its glow as the children arrived by whatever mode of transportation was available to them. Sometimes the aroma of a pot of hot soup simmering on the stove would make a warm and welcome addition to the cold sandwiches which were taken from the lunch boxes.

We must remember that, “In the Days Before”, each school was funded only by the property taxes paid by the farmers in that township with no State or Federal assistance whatever. Each autumn, a teacher was confronted with a deluge of children of varying ages and abilities, some prim and proper while others were as wild as little mavericks. She was charged with the task of turning them all into literate young people who would be able to make their way in the world. The miracle was that they were usually successful. Not only did they teach the academics but also congributed some small knowledge of whatever talent they possessed. One teacher might play the piano, another a guitar, and still another would teach awkward little girls to tap-dance!

In short, these miracle-workers brought a finer example of civilization to small offspring of unlearned and largely rough-hewn humanity to the status of up-standing citizens who could function to further build a growing nation into a united entity which could exert great influence on the world. They were over-worked and underpaid and, unfortunately, they still are. We entered our school years as blank slates and departed from them as literate and understanding individuals with a mission to make ourselves and our nation capable of bequeathing to our progeny a better life than we had experienced,

Many of these children would find their education cut short after less than a high school diploma and those early years must of necessity cram a lot of learning into the very young. Many young men were required to assist their parents on the farm and girls could expect to be married by the end if their teens. Few women worked outside the home and those who did not marry young were condemned to clerical work or to teaching, so the small proportion who were able to extend their education became teachers until marriage, so most of the teachers were young. The amazement was that so many of them were excellent, considering that the work was only a stop-gap to support themselves until marriage.

But that was a long time ago. Post World War II, the baby boom brought ever-larger schools and population growth in communities that could not afford to support them all. More Federal aid was channeled to the States as were funds for things like welfare and Medic-Aid for families in need. The nation grew and, of necessity, the government grew to deal with the ever-increasing population. New schools were built and buses provided for the transportation of the children to ever-larger schools. The percentage of high school graduates grew as did that of post-high-school education in the rising number of colleges. We became the best-educated population in the world!

Now we find ourselves governed by those with the money to exert undue influence on our representatives to government. Their battle cry is, “Stop spending! Cut taxes!” The nation is as split as any time since the Civil War as half the States are pursuing those same policies. Schools are being closed, free lunches and food stanmps are cut for hungry children, and the law-makers are talking about the Good Old Days but few of them were yet alive during the conditions that existed before the institution of the very programs that they choose to cut. Our expensive infrastructure is collapsing from neglect while the nation becomes more like “Les Miserable.” Soon, it will be divided between the huge cities with the financial concentration on assuring the super-rich that their lifestyle will not be threatened, and the rest of the country where children, old people, the infirm, and the will serve their local masters until blessed with the delivery of death.

Did the thousands of young men who were my brothers sacrifice their “lives and fortunes” in order to establish this kind of uncaring society. I think not! Will we dishonor The Greatest Generation by turning our national back on those sacrifices as well as those of all the other great patriots in our history to satisfy the desires of those for whom “All” is never “Enough?” That remains to be seen and depends entirely on the degree of sacrifice and dedication that is offered by today’s patriots.

We who remember “The Days Before” are now old, weak, and few. And so, the decision is up to you, the readers, to decide and to do whatever is necessary to stop it!

In The Days Before – Part 3

Mary Pitt at age 14

Mary Pitt at age 14

On a warm early spring, while I was outside playing, Mother called me back to the front porch where she told me that Father had passed away. She told me that there would be a number of people going in and out of the house and she would like me to stay out of the way until she called me in. As was (and is) my wont, I had no reaction except obedience. I walked up the sidewalk into the next block where I met a slightly smaller boy who, upon seeing me, picked up a rock and threw it with great accuracy right into my forehead. I fell to the ground and lay there weeping long after the bleeding stopped. I knew no emotional ties to this fearsome man but I suppose I knew that this would make new and terrible changes to my life.

And those changes were certainly unwelcome. There was a funeral in this little town where we had taken residence, followed by another in the town where my parents had lived for years. There were many strangers to meet and sort as to their relationship, a solemn visit with the one brother who had been able to obtain a “compassionate” leave for the occasion, and much confusion as to where life would take us next.

Mother decided to stay in the house until “things were settled” and then to take the remaining family back to the town where she had friends and relatives. At the funeral, friends and relatives had given her small donations which she carefully hoarded for moving expenses, and she rented two adjoining rooms upstairs to a newlywed couple who were diligent about paying their $10 a month rent so that, by the time the renter had to report to service, she said that she had enough to move. The oldest brother who remained at home had a birthday and he announced that he was enlisting in the Air Force but would wait until he had helped her move.

Life was again uprooted and my mother and two youngest brothers would undergo another settling-in with nothing but faith and optimism. The following year the next oldest brother enlisted and left, being followed the next year by the next younger brother, leaving only the youngest brother, who joined the Navy at only 17. Mother was left alone with only an adolescent daughter to care for and only minimal means of support.

war-ration-book-1_600
We continued, the two of us, living in the house with the five-star flag in the window and endured the rigors of living, not only in extreme poverty but with the added challenges of the war-time restrictions of food and ordinary daily needs. We were getting a reduced allotment from more than one brother in order to lessen the burden on each of them. I still wore second-hand and hand-me-down clothing, as did she. I vividly recall the time she decided that we could afford a rare visit to the cheapest movie house in town. The tickets cost eleven cents each and it was a rare and treasured event.

As we were leaving the movie, she paused in the midst of the pushing crowd, and all eyes searching her for the reason for the delay. There she stood with her under-drawers crumpled up around her ankles. I was feeling humiliated when she kicked them the rest of the way off, put them in her purse, and announced, “Darn that old Hitler! You can’t even get good elastic any more.” We continued proudly out the door to the sound of applause.

My brothers, as young men do, met lovely young women and got married. In turn, each asked Mother to forgo her allotment from him, to which Mother gladly agreed. Each time, we had to move to smaller and less expensive living quarters. Only one time did either of us have a serious illness and it was a trial. She became ill and the doctor told her that she had an obscure disease which he did not know how to treat. Being poor, hospital treatment was out of the question. She took to her bed and remained there for several weeks with no care other than what I could provide under the direction of the doctor who would stop in to check on her and to give me instructions

I gave up the upstairs bedroom and slept in the living room so I could hear her at night, eventually, staying home from school to care for her. She became delirious from the fever and required constant attention.

Finally, thinking Mother was dying, one of the brothers got a leave and came home to see her “one last time.” It was not the help I needed. He took me to task because the house was not adequately maintained and provided even more tasks, as I was also charged with cooking for him and his small family. His emergency leave ran out and they departed, so I continued caring for Mother until the morning she woke up lucid and demanding breakfast!

As time went on, older members of the family would turn to Mother for help. Because they were working on farms where a house was given as part of the wages, when they lost their jobs, they would have to live elsewhere. While with us, they would take any temporary employment they could find, but it was never enough. But Mother would pinch every dollar even harder and managed to keep children and grandchildren fed. First my sister and then a brother brought their child to us for them to attend school because, living in the country — before there were school buses — the walk was too far for a six-year-old to navigate alone.

The last of these events was when we were living in a one-bedroom house and another brother decided it was necessary to “come home.” Unfortunately, he brought his wife and four kids! Mother slept on the couch so that they and their youngest could have the bedroom. The rest of us slept on pallets of folded bedding on the floor.

My brother was still recuperating from the diphtheria that had cost him his job and it was a long time before he could find work that he could do. After a while, it seemed as though we were living with them! Mother finally informed them that the rent on the house was $15 per month and she had found us a one-bedroom apartment above a store downtown. We moved out and left them there. It was nice to have a bed again.

As more brothers married and cut off the allotments to Mother, money became more scarce than ever. Mother got a part-time job, altering clothes for a women’s store. She made a dime for measuring and sewing a hem, maybe twenty-five cents for alterations, etc., certainly not enough to live on but still welcome in her budget. I also got a job, washing dishes on weekend evenings in a tiny cafe downstairs from our apartment. I was allowed to keep the quarter I was paid each week for mad money!

I shall never forget my fifteenth birthday. Birthdays had never been celebrated in our home, just sort of a family reunion in July near Father’s birthday when we were on the farm. Mother would kill and dress a couple of young chickens to fry, and mix up milk and eggs for a freezer full of home-made ice cream. I recall it as the epitome of our familial happiness. This birthday, however, was an awesome surprise. Mother took me downtown to buy me a pair of shoes, not to the usual second-hand store but to J.C. Penney’s! To my delight, she allowed me to choose a pair of white gillie-tie shoes with the toes out! Then she said that we needed to go to the dress shop where she worked. I floated down the street in my beautiful shoes and into the door of the shop. There, she presented me with a new two-piece blue dress in the height of fashion! This was the first “store-bought-just-for-me” dress I had ever owned in my entire life!

Only over these many years have I really appreciated that gift as I came to understand the horrendous sacrifices and scrimping she had undergone to provide it to me. How many hems she had to stitch, how many seams she had to take in or let out and what she had done without in order to save that much money! It took many years of experience in scrimping and saving for something special for me to really appreciate her heroic efforts.

Today’s people may read of the circumstances of those days but they cannot be expected to truly understand them. It is possible to survive without welfare, Social Security, and medic-aid, but to those forced to live without them, there is a whole lot of miserable existence which only the heroic among us can survive. I lived in “The Days Before” and I know whereof I speak. I can recall as a small child asking my mother, “Why can’t we live in the days of fairy tales? Princesses lived in castles with beautiful things and had servants to do all the work.”

Mother’s reply was succinct and spoken with the wisdom of the ages, “What makes you think that, if you had lived in those days, YOU would be the princess and not the servant?”

In the Days Before – Part 2

farmgirl_mary_pittLeaving the farm, for an eleven-yer-old girl who was accustomed to leaving the house at will and roaming the pastures and fields in the company of a pair of vigilant collie dogs, was not an easy transition. After the one-room schoolhouse, the school was huge and strange. There were more children in my classroom than had been in our entire school in the country. And they were all strangers! But I was a child and was maleable as children are known to be. I could endure the strange looks as the other girls looked carefully over my home-made and hand-me-down clothes since I had become accustomed to that and I soon developed my own life around the constraints of living so closely with other people.

It was much less easy for my poor mother. She had no help except for what the children could provide. Granted, she had running water and the old wood-fired cook stove was replaced by a “modern” gas range. The washing machine was now powered by electricity instead a gasoline engine, but the clothes still had to be hung on the lines outdoors. Our father had up taken residence in the downstairs bedroom and demanded many trips a day to provide for his needs. Yet she managed and the meals always appeared on the old kitchen table at the right time.

Mother found a neighbor who came and plowed the garden which the boys then worked with rakes and shovels to create arable soil so she could plant the garden and she continued with the unending work schedule that she had known all her life. Father’s condition continued to deteriorate but Mother found that a doctor who lived in the neighborhood would look in on him to guide her in his care.

Eventually, the doctor began providing medications in order to keep Father sedated in his moments of forgetful delusion. Then he started asking to be paid and Mother had no money! I recall going with her to talk to a man about “getting on the county”, which is what welfare was called in those days. There was a “county farm” but it was only for old folks who worked in large gardens and cared for animals in return for their “keep,” but there was no accomodation for families with children.

We walked downtown to the “land office” where we were ushered into a back office occupied by a man such as I had never seen. He was grossly fat, wearing a white shirt and three-piece brown suit with the vest stretched tightly across his opulent belly and decorated with a shiny gold watch chain. This man acted as if it were his own money for which we were begging. I could sense Mother’s humiliation but she bore up under his condemning gaze and he finally agreed to provide a few dollars to pay the doctor so that he would continue to assist in Father’s care. But we were to meet that man again!

Yet, there were incidents when the medications were insufficient. I remember being wakened in the middle of one night to the sound of a loud ruckus taking place downstairs. I crept cautiously down the stairs with visions of robbers and thieves invading us. As I opened the stair door and peeked out the panorama spread before me was even worse than I expected. There was Father, in the middle of a delusion, standing at the front door and trying to open it. (I had never known that Mother had previously locked the door with a key in case of just such an event.) Three of the boys were trying to help her to control him when she asked, “What were you trying to do?”

His response was firm and commanding. “I’m going to run up and down the street naked and show the neighbors what a crazy man can do!”

This was the state of the family when the next crisis fell. My youngest brother, then no more than sixteen, came home with a bad stomach ache which grew worse all night and required Mother to sit with him all night to soothe him when the pain grew unbearable. The next morning, she called our neighbor/doctor who came by for an examination and declared that it was a severely inflamed appendicitis which should be taken to surgery on an emergency basis.

Mother put on her Sunday hat and we once again walked downtown to apply for country assistance. The fat man listened very briefly before explaining that he could not pay for the work to be done in the hospital which was “only” twenty miles away and would require payment. However, they could pay for transportation to Kansas City where the State charity hospital was located.

We went home and Mother dressed my brother and had another brother drive the old car to take them to our local train station. They got the invalid onto the train and then she was on her own. They traveled sixty miles to the east where there was a railroad junction and she had to take a taxi through that town to the other station to wait for the Kansas City train. There was still almost a hundred miles to go with stops at every little town along the way. Other pasengers helped her by keeping her supplied with damp cloths with which to soothe his fever until the destination was reached the next morning.

I have no idea how this little lady was able to help this tall, gangly, helpless adolescent from the train to a taxi but they were brought to the admitting room of the hospital. A brief examination by an intern preceded a quick trip to surgery where they found a ruptured appendix with inflamation spread throughout the internal organs, all due to the delay in getting him to treatment. Mother received the news that her son would live but recuperation would be slow, beginning with a two-week stay in the hospital.

But this was in “the days before.” There was certainly no Ronald McDonald House and she had no money. She didn’t question it but she spent that two weeks sitting in a chair in a ward full of ailing teen-aged boys, ministering to them as needed until the nurses would arrive to attend to them. At last the two weeks were up and she was given instructions for home care and he was released. She had saved the last bit of cash that the fat man had given her, called a taxi, and repeated the return trip in the same way.

With the hindsight of many years, I can only imagine the strength it took for this aging farm lady to embark on such an ordeal. She, who had at times spent multiple years without ever seeing a town, much less a large city, finding the courage to begin such a trying hegira, not only alone, but with the life of one of her offspring hanging in the balance. But she got home, safely, and with her remaining brood around her. And so she changed Father’s bed and did the laundry before she went to bed!

This is the life that those who complain so loudly about “wasteful government spending” would impose on yet another generation of American citizens so that they can play the part of the fat man and make sure that nobody who suffers misfortune ever gets quite what they need. Returning to :”the days before” would not only be wrong; it would be both criminal and sinful.

In the Days Before

Sharecropper

Farmers paid $100 per year plus a share of the crop for the privilege of occupying the land.

History and legends are rife with tales of “Old Crones” who educated the people and the leaders of nations in their search for further civilization by telling them the stories of what had gone before in their history. This writer has reached that stage in life where I am ready and willing to accept the title of “Old Crone” and to try to educate our people of “the days before”, in this case specifically, of the days before many of the political and social programs which affect our lives today. Today, my story will be about what life was like for many in the days before some of taken-for-granted social programs of today.

I was born in 1930, during the administration of Herbert Hoover and in the early days of the famous Dust Bowl, to parents who were already elderly by the standards of the day. They already had eight children and had lost one in infancy. My father was a farmer and they reared their family on eighty acres of rented farmland as had their own families before them. I can remember the 1936 elections and my father’s ire at the successes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He hated government and resented any intrusion of said government into what he had considered the business of private persons.

Father paid $100 per year plus a share of the crop for the privilege of occupying the land. The money for the landlord had to be saved by pennies and nickels throughout the year to avoid having to move to another property the following year, so hard cash was very hard to come by. Therefore, all the household support was accomplished by my mother. She would plant huge gardens of vegetables which were canned in glass jars and stored in the storm cellar for use all year. Any patches of native fruits and berries were harvested and processed into the jars for winter consumption.

She kept chickens, laying hens that would provide the eggs which were carefully cleaned and boxed for transport to town to get enough cash to purchase the basic food which was our fare. A large box of eggs and a couple of gallons of cream from our cows would buy a huge box of oatmeal, a can of lard, and a 24-pound sack of flour for the bread which was our staple. On a good week, we could also afford a pound of oleomargarine, the kind that had to have the coloring removed from the packet and stirred into the glob of white goo which substituted for butter. Only occasionally was there a nickel left to buy a bit of sugar to sweeten the fruit or, wonder of wonders, to bake a cake.

When Roosevelt established the Work Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp, we worried that Father would die of apoplexy! A married older brother with a family went to work for the WPA and another brother joined the CCC. At last, there was a bit of cash in the household. And then, to Father’s horror, the farm commodities began to be distributed, “forcing” the families of farmers to “eat from a tin can.”

In the summer, Father and the boys would contract to bale hay for farmers with larger acreage. Some of that work was for cash while some was for a share of the bales, which could be sold to accumulate cash toward the annual rent. In the hardest years, there would not be enough cash income from the contracting and the sale of other crops to cover the $100 rent. Fortunately, since Father was such a good farmer with so many mouths to feed, the landlord was often lenient and accepted only the share. It was hard, energy-sapping work and people just wore out at a much younger age than they do now.

When Father was only 60 years old, he began to suffer more from his chronic cough and there would be days that he would spend the day in the house, worrying aloud….very loud! On many occasions, due to the hard work and the vagaries of nature, he had suffered from severe pneumonia for extended periods and his cough had worsened each time. There were doctors at that time but even they were limited in what medicines or procedures were available. Even if the doctors had the capabilities and the knowledge of today, the poor had no money and would lie-in at home until nature took its course.

In 1940 another of the older brothers left home. Since there was no work locally, he joined the Navy, so he would not be available for the next haying season but, somehow, we made it through. Then Pearl Harbor happened and our whole world turned upside-down. The oldest brother who was left at home went to the county seat and enlisted in the Army. This left only three brothers at home, not enough to do all the work, much less to compensate for Father’s lessened abilities.

There was no choice but to sell out what we owned on the farm and move into town. Being still a child, I was more concerned with losing all the friends when the animals had to go to new homes, but there were more serious concerns than that. Later in life, in going through Mother’s papers, I came across the accounting from the auction of all my parents’ worldly goods. With the sale of every animal, every piece of farm equipment, and all the appurtenances that went with them, their “lifetime savings” amounted to slightly over $600!

My mother has always been my hero, and she proved it then. She rented a house in our small town and moved in with three almost-adult boys, an elementary-school daughter, and a dying husband and she made us a home! The brother who was in the Army arranged for her to be given $15 a month as a “family allotment.”  This amount covered the rent with nothing left for food. The brother in the Navy had married and his allotment was going to his wife. The two older sons who were at home did find part-time work around town, as helpers in various shops, and contributed their earnings to the family.

You may ask, “Why didn’t she go on welfare or apply for SSI for your father?” The answer is simple. That was in “The Days Before!” When you hear the politicians complain about needing to “reform entitlements,” and you know that their aim is merely to end them, be sure to watch for my next article about what life was like in the days when there were no entitlements or other assistance for the poor.

Is Anybody Really Surprised?

Elephants are supposed to have good memories.

Elephants are supposed to have good memories.

As we watch our once vital nation struggling to prevent going down the drain, can anybody give an affirmative resonse to that one question? Almost thirteen years age, we were glued to our television sets as we watched the kerfuffle in Florida as the vote counters struggled over the dangling chads and tossed out the dimpled ones while the Republican activists all but rioted outside the door. We witnessed the legal challenges that prevented us all from knowing the actual result of the presidential elections. Not until December were we told that the Supreme Court had decided that our President would be George W. Bush.

Some of us mourned, some put on their tinfoil hats, and the rest seemed to just crawl under their beds. Before we could get our minds adjusted to the “new reality,” the war talk began and, in less than a year, we watched the towers of the World Trade Center crumble into rubble. The warhawks began scrambling for an attack on Iraq but it was shortly determined that Iraq had not done this deed. It was done by an outlaw group from Aghanistan, so we shifted our attention to that long-benighted country and began raining bombs and ground troops upon them.

Now, the presidency of Bill Clinton had left our budget not only balanced but we saw a predicted surplus “as far as the eye could see. Congress promptly allowed Mr. Bush to launch all-out war with Afghanistan “off the budget.”

Shortly, there were more rumblings about Iraq and stories were circulated that Saddam Hussein was working feverishly in an effort to develop an atomic bomb with which to devastate the entire Middle East. We sent United Nations inspectors in to search for any sign of the suspected weapons development and all their reports came back negative. But never mind, Saddam was a bad guy and he really needed to go! In a short time, Mr. Bush was given the signal from Congress to “use his own judgement” which. of course, resulted in our entry into a long and unproductive war during which no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” were found.

Instead of increasing taxes to pay for this futile exercise, President Bush and the Congress lowered taxes, decreasing the funds available to pay for a war affort. There was not even any talk of instituting a draft to guarantee the needed manpower. The much-touted “all-volunteer military” was taxed with fighting two wars on two fronts at the same time, a situation we had not had since the end of World War II. “Contractors” were hired under no-bid contracts to take up the slack created by our under-staffing. While still fighting the Iraqis, we were undertaking “re-building projects” which were done also under no-bid contracts. There were reports of bundles of US currency being shipped into the country by the truck-load and distributed without accountability. Audits are only now taking place which demonstrate the levels of wasted money.

The dead were returned home under the cover of darkness and in deep secrecy. The wounded came home to rat-ridden hospitals and a level of care which was, upon discovery, described as an atrocity. It was, except for our dedicated soldiers, a war waged by amateurs. Unfortunately, the aftermath is being handled by the same people. The troops were largely removed from Iraq last year with little indication that much improvement was accomplished but men are still dying in the mountains of Afghanistan with a deadline in sight for leaving under that same conditions. The established “veteran’s rights” are still being touted as being in force but the vets have such a long wait for their after-care and other benefits that they are, in practice, being negated.

Now Congress is aghast that our national deficit so large! Their response has been a long, loud scream of “Stop spending!” Of course, that was after the banks had been bailed out, the stock market made well, and a couple of increases in their own paychecks. Their answer to the problem is to throw a few thousand poor and elderly on the funeral pyre so the rich can keep their little hands warm. They fought to prevent the Bush tax cuts from expiring on millionaires as scheduled, and insist that the only way to handle the money crunch is to cancel all welfare programs as well as Social Security.

Across the country, State officials are making every effort to destroy labor unions and every effort to effect collective bargaining. The super-rich have fooled the evangelical Christians into collusion with them so they can destroy women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the rights for a woman to control her own medical care. The Republicans shout, “Get the government out of our pockets!” while the religous right add, “and into your bedroom and your medicine chest.”

But, cheer up! The stock market is booming and the rich are happily jumping through their tax loopholes and stocking up their Cayman Islands retirement funds. But that is not enough! We must pay for all the bank buy-outs as well as the two forgotten wars. There is no choice but to cut the spending that protects the hungry little kids in schools, the sick who have lost their insurance through over-use or unemployment, and the elderly who are free-loading off Social Security.

There is an epidemic of dyslexia since nobody reads history any more. Just today, in defending his projected 2013 budget, Rep. Paul Ryan said that, “Mr. Obama is to blame for using up the Social Security funds!” If the good Congressman were to read a bit of history, he would know that it was Republican President Eisenhower to asked Congress to roll the Social Security Trust Fund moneys into the General Fund to mask the appearance of the Federal budget during the 1950’s when the highest tax rates were in the nineties! . That changed the Trust Fund into a debt from the government to the people whose money it was. The only way to end Social Security now is to declare a default, which would cause a fiscal crisis. That’s why it is called an “entitlement.”

So now, we have a government which is struggling with a horrendous deficit because we fought two wars on the cuff and then bailed out a bunch of crooked bankers while being hamstrung by a bunch of politicians who have been bought, body and soul, by the super-rich and do not dare increase taxes from the lowest level since the income tax was instituted for fear of losing the cushy seats in Washington.

I ask you again, “Is anybody really surprised?”

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

Falling Through the Cracks

STOP ROMNEY!

The 1% are the real poor – spiritually bankrupt.

From my years of work in providing care for disabled people. I am well aware of the number of people who “fall through the cracks” of our vaunted welfare system. When one is disabled and cannot work, for whatever reason, it is “the Christian thing to do” for society to help them avoid the inevitable ruin for them and their families. However, for many the system as it currently exists falls far short of that target.

One family man of my acquaintance has fallen through that proverbial crack and, as the result his very life and the continuation of his whole family is endangered. As the result of construction work injuries that broke his back, coupled with the extreme hard physical effort expended in working as a roustabout in the gas fields, he could no longer do that kind of work and had to give it up.

As a man who was only in his thirties, he determined to make a living by doing odd jobs, which he did for a period of years as his health continued to decline. As the recession crept up, it was harder to make enough money to support his family so his wife of twenty years began working in the office of a provider of services for the disabled and, for a few years, made enough money to sustain the family while he played “Mr. Mom” for their two sons and worked part time at any odd jobs he could get.

They managed quite well for a few years but, eventually, the strain began its own vengeance and he developed ulcers which sometimes caused him intense pain. The recession deepened and his odd jobs became harder to find and ceased. His wife’s employer, a contractor for the state, began to be squeezed by state budget cuts until they were forced to cut the salaries of their employees. She helped her husband apply for his Social Security disabilty benefits. His application was denied because he had not been working under “covered” employment for too long. Then application was made through the Social and Rehabiliation offices. There they were told that the wife’s income alone would only allow them to receive food stamps.

Then their oldest son turned eighteen, graduated from high school and then left home. With one less person in the house, the food stamps disappeared! This year, the younger son turned eighteen and then graduated from high school. Now he can’t even qualify as a dependent for tax purposes unless he goes to college, which he would love to do. However, in the process of evaluation, it was learned that this proud graduate of the special education classes of our school system failed the entrance examinations because of a “reading comprehension problem.” Sorry, but the scholarships and additional fees paid by his parents are non-refundable!

As problems are wont to do, they keep getting worse. Two days after he finally received a diagnosis of duodenal ulcers, the kind that are prone to rupture and cause one to bleed to death internally, he was moving a very heavy object in his own yard and caused a groin rupture. So, here they are with no medical insurance coverage, a gross family income which cannot pay all their expenses, and the threat of death hanging over them. Unless they take the option offered by the Republican politicians by showing up in a hospital emergency room and “free-loading” the necessary treatment, proving that it is no answer at all, the man is simply living on borrowed time. They know that the collection agency will hound them until hell freezes over in their efforts to collect every single dime. The irony of this situation is that, except for the fact that our Governor has stated that he would not accept the offer made by “Obomneycare” to increase the levels of poverty in Medicaid adjudications, they could, at least, receive the needed medical care under its provisions.

Is it the prevailing theory of the Republicans that this is the way our America should run? Should we give tax breaks to the filthy rich and let the poor just die because they are not able to do sufficient work to maintain life? Is this what the many generations of my family, including five of my brothers, fought and many died, to preserve for posterity? Is this the society we want to leave for our own descendents? If this is not a nightmare, I never want to wake up.

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

The Triple-D Sisterhood

Note: This post is written only half in jest as a protest against the continuing efforts to reduce women to the status of sexual objects.

Women’s Groups - Women’s Press... Digital ID: 1686445. New York Public Library

Come in, ladies, sit down at the table and pass the ice cream; we have a problem to solve.

I do not call this the Triple-D Sisterhood because of anybody’s bra size.  I call it that because we have been Disenfranchised, Disrespected and are Disgusted with what the old men in Washington and the State capitols have been doing to us.  They have declared it their prerogative to take the direction of our physical care, our health, and our moral responsibility out of our hands and to mandate what we must do with our lives, our mental and physical well-being, and our most personal decisions.

Many senior members of our sisterhood wear the scars of the “war for equality” and had believed that we were the victors.  Now we learn that every generation of women are going to have to fight it over again.  We are old and tired and it is time for us to support the younger generation as they stand up to the same mindset that we are experienced in fighting, and we can do that best by relaying the basic information that we have gathered as the result of our efforts.

First, our male counterparts, (otherwise known as “the enemy”), find themselves in a recession of their own making and they feel that any job held by a woman is a job that would be better done by a man.  Toward that end, they are promoting the old bromide that “a woman’s place is at home, in the kitchen and bare-footed.”  Never mind that most working women are working to support their families due to a disabled, unemployed, or absent husband. If only they could be forced to do what they are supposed to do, the menfolk could straighten things out and solve all the problems.  Thus, not only abortion but all forms of birth control must be made unattainable to them.

The most obvious response to this might appear to be a boycott of sex by women, known as the Lysistrata Offensive, but it can only work if all women agree.  The alternative is to place the blame exactly where it belongs….with the men!  I am old and I grew up on a farm.  My introduction to the reproductive process came from watching my mother as she began to prepare eggs that were gathered from her hens to be placed in the incubator to hatch a new crop of baby chicks.  The eggs were “candled” by looking at them through a hole in a container that was placed over a lamp.  When placed over the hole, the eggs became sufficiently opaque that one could see the interiors.  Inside the shell, even a youthful eye could discern clearly the yolk in the center.  If there were a small, white squiggle attached to the yolk, the egg was place in one container to be transferred to the incubator.  If not, it went into another to be used for breakfast.  It was explained to me that the white squiggly thing was the sperm from the rooster.

This brought home for all time the knowledge that there are no baby chicks in a chicken egg and there are no babies in a human egg!  The babies are in the sperm, each of which penetrates the egg and consumes it, eventually making contact with the blood supply of the “hostess” and drawing nutrition from her until it outgrows its “container” and breaks free.  Without the sperm, the woman’s egg is expelled while a hen’s egg is breakfast!

We must insist that the medical community cease its research into ways to prevent women from having babies to developing ways to prevent men from distributing sperm.  They begin producing this product at puberty, often as early as 10 to 12 years and it continues for their lifetimes, often into extreme old age.  The only really effective means of birth control for men currently is the vasectomy, a simple surgery but a permanent solution and one that few men will consent to have done inasmuch as they consider their ability to impregnate women to be a sign of their manhood.  If they choose to continue to take our right to control our own health, they must do whatever is necessary to avoid the risk of being denied the pleasure of our bodies.  We’re going to “cook breakfast”.

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family.  She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

Republicans & Their Caterpillar Problem

First seen at Discomfit Magazine.

Caterpillars turn into lovely butterflies

When asked about the problem of women leaving the Republican Party in large numbers, Reinse Preiebus, the executive director of the party, said that, given enough press, the Democrats could accuse them of having a “caterpillar problem,”thus minimizing the idea that they even have a problem.  They do have a problem and he may find that he chose an appropriate simile in his comparison.

For over a century, women could rightly feel like caterpillars, living perpetually in the cocoon of a home and family without being offered any choice in their lives.  They did as they were told by a man who, they were told, has superior capacity for understanding things in business and politics.  Until after the turn of the last century, they were denied even a right to vote, much less the right to accumulate anything of worth in their own right.  They were required to sit, smiling as their husbands might nudge a neighbor as he made fun of wives and women in general.

The funniest new joke  in the thirties was to ask, “Have you heard the definition of a wife?”  The punch line was, “It’s a new appliance that you screw on the bed and it does all the house work.”  Hilarious!

But, due to the efforts of a lot of long-suffering sisters who braved beatings and forced feedings, they did earn women’s suffrage.  They could vote and they did!

In response to the interminable sufferings of poverty, they mostly and largely secretly, helped to elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The one thing that did the most to free the “little ladies” from this literal slavery was the onset of World War II.  Every able-bodied man was needed in the war and there was a huge problem in manufacturing the arms and armaments which our nation so sorely lacked.  It was decided that, perhaps, women could learn to do the work that was once reserved for men.

Young women turned out in droves for training in the operations of welders, rivet guns, and heavy manufacturing machinery.  Children met “baby-sitter” for the first time as older women and young girls took over the child-rearing chores and none of them suffered any lasting negative effects.  Soon we had the mightiest military machine in the world, the wars were won, and the men came home.  For a time, women happily went back into the ever-more-expensive cocoons with an even-greater list of responsibilities.

Their daughters, however, had an entirely different outlook.  No cocoon for them!  They were aware of their capabilities and they wanted to fulfill them!  Offices became full of secretaries and hospitals adequately staffed with nurses; schools were staffed with teachers, and there were other challenges to conquer.

Soon, they were writing for newspapers, writing for, and even publishing their own papers and magazines.  Despite the fears of the old men, marriages still took place and the population continued to grow as women dropped out of working or took sabbaticals to rear young families.

But they had seen the world and they liked it!  They chose to limit the size of their families so they could return to their respective professions.  This, however was difficult and accidents did happen.  Then the choice was dire; to again give up their dreams or to risk being butchered by an illegal back-alley abortionist.

This gave life to the pro-choice movement which took a couple of decades to accomplish.  This movement also inspired the free-enterprise pharmaceuticals firms to develop other birth-control measures and they were a startling success.  Some two generations of women relied upon these measures, from the messy diaphragm to the pills and the hormone shots, to allow them to juggle careers and child-bearing.

This is the real problem with caterpillars which the Republicans do not appear to understand.  Caterpillars have a way of turning into butterflies!  They flutter about, spreading pollen for the flowers and making the world a more beautiful place, at the same time, creating more caterpillars to carry on their work.

These butterflies cannot and will not return to their cocoons and no sane person would expect them to do so.  You may stick pins through their heads and hang them on your walls but you can’t put them back in the cocoon once they have felt freedom and spread their wings.

Mr. Priebus was right.  When the Republicans want to destroy women’s access to reproductive care and remove the availability of controlling their own fertility, then they may find that they have a “caterpillar problem.”

Fouled Forever by Fracking

This is a typical well

Fracking leaves scars, above and below the surface.

I have very strong misgivings about the XL pipeline proposal.  Governor Brownback tells us that it will bring “good times” to Kansas but I have good reasons to doubt it.

When I was a child, some seventy years ago, we moved to a farm about ten miles north of the little town where I now reside.  In an area adjoining our barn lot, there was a small pond of blue water.  The clay for several yards around it was also blue and I questioned about it.  I learned that it was a “sluice pond” from a gas well that had been attempted there many years before.  Gas and oil occupy the same underground areas and one cannot drill for one without finding at least small quantities of the other. In that case, the water and oil had been drained off into this little pond in that unsuccessful search for gas.  That same small piece of ground will still be blue and totally barren of vegetation, but that was a small operation.  Periodically, some drillers will go back to old wells and try low-pressure “fracking” in order to salvage a bit more gas from that well.  It was done a mile from our little lake house where we had a well of potable water.  After the fracking, the well was hopelessly fouled…. forever!

In traveling the length of Kansas in order to visit your lovely state, I was struck by how green western Kansas has become with the assistance of the gigantic irrigation systems which allow the growth of many crops that are not thought to be indigenous to the climate.  This cropland that spreads throughout the whole of western Kansas and Nebraska is the reason for the sobriquet of “Breadbasket to the World.”  The fresh water which nourishes those fields as well as all the large cities west of Wichita is a large underground deposit, called the Oglalla Aquifer, dating back to the melting glaciers from the last Ice Age.  We are aware that it will not last forever and so conservation practices have been instituted for its maximum protection.

Can one even imagine the disaster, not only to Kansas and Nebraska but to the world as a whole, should this precious water deposit become fouled by a massive leak of crude oil into its midst?  A huge share of the wheat-producing land in the world would be instantly removed from availability, world famine would be increased exponentially and the entire region returned to empty desert.  There is nobody who can guarantee that such a leak would never happen and there is not enough money in the world to compensate humanity for its loss.

Than, again, why should we tolerate it?  This is Canada’s oil, bound for re-sale all over the world.  There are refineries closer than Houston and no reason why Canada should not build their own refineries closer to the source of the product, and there must be routes for its disposal that do not endanger such a precious resource of an equally-precious deposit.  I applaud the President for his courageous demand to wait for further investigation of the environmental impact before giving further consideration to tis potentially-disastrous project.

Newt??? You’ve Gotta Be Kidding!

The Republican primary contest has been a highly amusing comedy of errors as first one and then another of a large group of misfits step forward onto the stage and do a series of prat falls that would make the old-time silent movie comedians proud. First, Herman Cain swept to the front of the pack in the opinion polls. Then a series of sexual harassment cases fell out of his closet and he began to lose a bit of his luster. Now, he seems to have suffered an intense amnesia in feeble attempts to reply to policy questions. The “heroic” former governor of Texas assumed that he would inherit the job so recently left by that hurricane of public policy, George W. Bush, and he soared like an eagle until he was felled by a black rock and lost his memory. Meanwhile, the old standby, Mitt Romney, peripatetic candidate for president, stand by once again, seeming to find it best to keep his mouth shut inasmuch as each opening of that orifice results in a charge of “flip-flopping.”

Eye of newt? Sounds like (more) witchcraft from the GOP

Now, the American people are being treated to another “front-runner,” none other than the indefatigable Newt Gingrich! This man was once the Speaker of the House but there was a little glitch. Just as they were preparing to impeach Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, it was learned that he was himself enjoying a wee fling with his own gorgeous secretary. This, of course, required his resignation as well as those of a couple of predecessors before a new Speaker was found who appeared to possess skirts that were clean enough. This resignation allowed him to be safely out of office before the investigation into the activities of Jack Abramoff.

Not happy with his lot as a happily-married, rich-and-getting-richer “advisor” to the firms affected by the activities of Congress, he has decided that he is suited for the presidency. And the movers-and-shakers of the party, counting on the recurrent amnesia of the voters, seem to have agreed. At first, it was such a crazy idea that laughter would seem appropriate. However, politics has not been funny for a very long time now. It is deadly serious and, if we did not eat George Bush’s mushrooms and we can remember further back than yesterday, this possibility is entirely sobering. As a reminder, Newt Gingrich is the same man who suggested that the answer to the problems with funding welfare would be to put all the children into orphanages. Those who cannot afford to support their children shouldn’t be allowed to have them. Shocking and abhorrent? Stay tuned! Now this paragon of virtue has a new answer for the shortages in educational funding. It is so simple on the face of it that somebody of limited intelligence just might take it seriously.

In a recent speech he said that the problem could be solved by “firing the union janitors and hiring the kids to clean the schools!” This would “teach them how to work.” This hare-brained solution was posited in a recent speech which was documented by Burns and Halberman in Politico.com. Yep, same ole Newt. The frightening part is that there will be some Republicans dumb enough to vote for him! You doubt it? They elected George Bush, didn’t they?

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family.  She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.
 

How many poor people do you know?

You can't eat the bible...

You can't eat the bible...

This is a question that should be asked of any person who is running for a national office. We don’t mean how many poor people one sees on the streets as one drives by in an automobile, not just those who show up at the soup kitchen with whom a photo opportunity is in progress. We mean the people who live constantly at or slightly above the poverty line, constantly worrying as they juggle their meager budget to try to prioritize and keep their heads above the fiscal disaster that lurks everywhere, who work even when they’re ailing because they cannot feed the family without that paycheck and “doctors cost money.”

Pediatricians are becoming alarmed because more women are foregoing prenatal medical care and even having their babies without medical assistance of any kind due to lack of money to pay. Without free breakfasts and lunches at school many children would be going all day with an empty stomach when Daddy’s or Mommy’s money runs out before the next payday.

Do you know any of these people? Have you visited them just because you value their company and are interested in their opinions? Have you asked them to your home for an evening? If you answer in the negative, something is lacking, not only in your knowledge base but in your religious education. If you did know them, you would know of how offended they would be if you offered to give them money, but how willing they would be to find the time to do a job for you if you were to need some temporary chores. However, they would happily do the same chore for you without pay should you give ask them.

You see, these people are not the scum of society as so many politicians would term them. Your familial antecedents would have called them “the salt of the earth.” They are the same kind of people who would sell themselves into bondage for the opportunity to take their families and their poor possessions aboard a frail ship to reach a far-off land where they could work hard to build a better life for their children and for generations to come. They would serve out their bondage, gather their belongings again, and set out, bag and baggage, for lands unknown in order to fell trees for a shelter so they could till the soil and create a home.

But now we live in a settled land where everything belongs to somebody else; there is no virgin land there for the taking, there are no more frontiers to settle and there is no choice but for mankind to learn to live with one another. We are all in the same boat. The problem is that too many want to stand in the bow and captain the journey while those who man the oars are taken for granted. As the boat starts to sink from having the weight unevenly distributed by too many captains, those captains think the answer is to scuttle the oarsmen! Thus, we are faced with silly ideas like “trickle down.”

There was a time that candidates would campaign door-to-door, visiting with potential; voters in their homes and listening to their concerns. Now campaigns are limited to televised speeches and rallies among the faithful where the candidates never talk to anybody who is not already disposed to support them. The questions usually come from those who already know the canned answers which they will receive, and neither candidate nor voter actually learn anything.

It is easy for a candidate like Ron Paul to espouse leaving sick and uninsured to just die and to receive great applause from his supporters which leads him to believe that his answer was correct. Do you suppose Congressman Paul has any close friends or relatives who are truly poor? So why should he care should a constituent or a hired minion should die for lack of medical care?

To some of a gentler persuasion, it would seem necessary for a successful candidate to know those whom he is bound to represent in the government of the United States. Try asking the question at the next political rally you attend, “How many poor people do you really know?”

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

The Great American Guilt Trip

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

Are you over 70? FOR SHAME!!

We have all listened and laughed as comedians talk about the guilt that is trained into them by their Jewish or Catholic mothers, the Sisters who taught them in schools or the preachers in their churches. It is very funny. But the latest guilt trip that is being inflicted is no joke. It is being done by the wealthy and the greedy of our nation and is being perpetrated on our senior citizens!

Having been reared with the idea of self-sufficiency that is prevalent in American society, the aging person is acutely aware of the biblical definition of life spanning “three score and ten years”, we have become accustomed to the idea that that is the greatest age we can expect to be on this earth. In early times, this goal was rarely reached, especially by the female of the species. Death in childbirth was at one time the greatest threat to female existence in our rather primitive nation but, over time, the profession of medical care increased and this became less of a threat. We no longer must tramp through primeval forests in search of fierce wild animals for food, we no longer must expose our fragile bodies to the elements without warm clothing or sturdy footwear and most of us have medical care available in the event of illness or accident. Consequently, the average lifespan for Americans has soared.

Some eight decades ago, we had an agrarian society and the care of the elderly was rather simply managed. As in biblical times by the time the family patriarch became so weakened by age that they could no longer work, adult sons were prepared to return to the family home with their own wives and children. They would, in their turn and without question, assume the burden of their parents in return for assuming their assets and position in the community.

Once the nation became industrialized, families began to scatter and to live great distances apart. As the distance increased, so did the connection to the family and increasing numbers of elderly found themselves alone with no means of support. President Roosevelt was sufficiently compassionate to notice this and he instituted the present system of Social Security. This, in effect, put the government in the position of becoming one giant insurance company to whom we each paid “premiums” to insure that we would not be subjected to penury when we were no longer able to work. It was a great comfort to us to know that hunger would be an unmet stranger. Some years later, based on the enormous success of Social Security, Congress saw fit to do the same with the health care for the elderly. The premiums were collected in the same way, based on the ability of the laborer to invest in his future.

Now we are told that the dwindling of the funds in the Social Security Trust are threatening to run out and it’s all our fault! We have lived too long! We have had too many children!

This writer until recently was experiencing some twenty years of caring for a beloved man who had been diagnosed with a disabling and incurable disease which would surely take his life. This man had been a formidable character, large in size and gifted with “people sense” so that his every word bore import and whose physical strength had been seemingly super-human. As his health deteriorated and he was unable to do the tasks that he once accomplished with such ease his former life became impossible for him, and his greatest enemy became depression. Then, as he dwindled into a vitual “bag of bones”, he would plead for relief. I will never forget the look in his rheumy eys as he would ask, “Why can’t I just be helped to die? We do it for old, sick dogs, why am I denied that relief?”

Now our government is in the grip of the Fundamental Religous Right. Not only do they want to deny people the right to determine the size and the spacing of their families, but they would be aghast if someone suggested the legitimizing of “assisted suicide”. If they bothered to really read their Bible, they would see that the leaders of the early Israelites, as they grew old and lost their efficacy “went up to the mountaintop and gave up the ghost.” No mention was ever made of the actual cause of death but their “right to die” was never questioned. Just so did the heroes of the American Indians quietly slip away from their tribal homes and “disappear” as the years sapped their strength and stamina. Now, with pace-makers and other artificial mechanisms, medical science has the capability to keep our bodies alive long after any philosophical “usefulness” has ended and, many times, long after our desire to continue living.

It is simply unconsciable to force us to continue to live in suffering and debilitation while refusing us the pittances that allow us to keep body and soul together so that the wealthy can “maintain their lifestyle.” If all our many sacrifices and the triumphs of the durability and genius of mankind no longer have any meaning, the least we can ask of them is to bow to the dignity which we have so richly earned and allow us the privilege of deciding whether we would prefer to die in pain, whether from disease or hunger, or, with reason intact, to end our struggles with the compassionate medical assistance of a physician.

That is the least that should be provided to The Greatest Generation!

This writer is an octagenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

Revolt of the Grannies

They've lived enough history to know when to call bull

The President tells us that we may not get our Social Security checks if Congress doesn’t act. Obviously, he wasn’t nurtured by the grannies who will revolt if they find that they must live on the streets and eat from other people’s garbage cans because a flock of grown men haven’t learned to act like adults. Many of you may remember the “singing Grannies” and the famed and sainted Granny Haddock who were so predominantly in the headlines during the Bush administration protests. If those checks are not in our respective banks or mailboxes on schedule, you will learn a lesson that your own grandmothers failed to teach you. “It isn’t wise to piss off your Grandma!”

We grandmothers, who have survived many, many years of marriage and rearing from one to three generations of now-grown-up people, who have been left alone to make our own poverty-stricken way in the world with but a tiny pittance to keep the wolves from our doors, may decide that we have nothing left to lose, and you will learn the true meaning of protest. Yes, there are some who will be showered with checks from their successful children or invited to “come live at our house.” There are many more who were left destitute after dutifully nursing husbands through their last illnesses and then scrimping dutifully to pay off the huge medical and funeral bills that were left after Medicare had finished paying.

Not all the recipients of Social Security are women but they account for a large majority. Some still live in their own homes, (which they watch crumbling about them due to lack of affordable maintenance), while others must rent and the effect on them of any failure to deliver will be most immediate. Without the money to pay the rent, they will be homeless within thirty days. Most receive only about a thousand dollars a month and many have Section 8 assistance with the rent, which will, of course, also not be paid. The customary food stamps will not arrive and the utility companies will have no patience. Their monthly pittance is literally the difference between life and death.

Once that difference is removed and these “sweet ladies” find that they have absolutely no value to mankind, or worse, to their nation and that death is an inevitability, trust me, they will make their deaths even more meaningful than their lives. Picture these scenarios:

On a quiet Sunday morning a large group of little old ladies may appear on the steps of the Capitol, in front of the White House, their respective State Capitols, or the County Court Houses. They are dressed in their Sunday best, as if to go to church. They admire the view, chat a bit, then bow their heads in reverent prayer. Then each removes a bottle from her large bag and pours the contents of the bottle over her head, allowing the contents to pour down her clothing. Then. they simultaneously reach once more into the bag, drawing forth a cigarette lighter and, on the count of “three”, they all strike the flame.

The local news in the morning will show the charred bodies on the steps so that the whole world will know that the vaunted “principles” of the United States were all lies and nobody with a conscience will ever again sing “God Bless America.”

These elderly ladies have been schooled from the cradle that they must live on their income, pay their bills, and do their duty. In return, they are told that their reward will be the respect of continuing generations of proud Americans, just as they respected their forebears and the sacrifices that they made. Many have also worked outside the home and they, as well as their husbands, paid into the fund for Social Security for their old age. To them their Social Security checks are the only fiscal reward that will tell them that they are loved and respected in their own turn. Any woman who is shown in no uncertain terms that her very life has no more value and, therefore, she has no reason to continue to live, will search for some way to make her death have some meaning. Some of us may decide that the preceding situation may drive home the message. Each of us has spent the better part of a century cleaning up the messes made by others and so we feel entitled to make one mess and leave it for others to clean up.

This is not the type of demonstration that Americans are accustomed to witnessing but it is most common among the eastern nations and is the final desperate act by an individual to draw attention to the great wrong that has been done. Tossing Grandma into the streets with no means of support would certainly constitute such an atrocity and would deserve this ultimate act of protest.

We have watched as our precious Constitution has been bastardized and misinterpreted, our ruling representatives sold to the highest bidder, and the dream of democracy has been trampled in the dust. Now, we will rely on the Faith of Our Fathers to guide us into the next world and make our last sacrifice for the generations to come. We will not become rats in the streets with tin cups for the coins of those who can’t resist our gaze. Remember what we were told as a preamble for war: Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

This Ain’t Ike’s Grand Old Party

As one who was born into the Republican Party almost a century ago, I do not even recognize the party as it exists today. My family hated Franklin Roosevelt as rabidly as the Tea Party hates Obama today. Despite the fact that the nation was deep in the depression before he took office, my parents and their neighbors detested every measure that President Roosevelt took to correct the situation, My father was deeply humiliated when he had to accept the first box of government-distributed food so that his children could eat.

You see, the Republican Party had real principles then. It was not considered a shame to be poor so long as you worked hard and were an honorable person. If you needed something that you could not buy, you offered to work for it. If you could not work, the neighbors would come in and do your work so that you would lose neither your work nor the eventual benefit of what you had worked so hard to accomplish.

It was not a shame or an honor if you happened to have the good fortune to enjoy plenty, so long as you had earned it by your own honest efforts and refrained from flaunting your wealth by ostentatious living. The boss and the hired hand were expected to work together at the same job and under the same circumstances. This was not a religion, as such, but it was held as deeply as the people held their Christianity.

In that light, they opposed the idea of going to war to “save Europe”, yet when war was declared, they lined up at enlistment offices to “do their duty.” The same men who refused to allow their sons to sign up for the Civilian Conservation Corps or the Works Progress Agency took them to the bus station and proudly sent them off to serve their country in such numbers that the earlier ones had to help finish the construction of the camps where they were to receive their basic training. They bought War Bonds to help defray the costs and the children saved their pennies to take to school to buy a ten cent “savings stamp” when they had contibuted enough pennies. These stamps were placed in a book and a full book would be exchanged for an $18.75 War Bond that would return them $25 “someday.”

Worn-out implements, old aluminum washing machines, broken bicycles, broken farm equipment, and any other useful metal, found its way to the nearest railyard for shipment to the aircraft plants and shipyards. Even the old cannon that had sat in the courtyard square since a much earlier war went to the the railroad car to be melted down and re-used. Gas, food, and any other essential goods were tightly rationed, prices and wages were frozen with the intent that nobody would become rich by contributing to the war effort and it was accepted by the people as a necessity.

When this century turned, the world was suddenly upside-down. The new president came into office with delusions of inherited grandeur and cronyism ran rampant. The only contribution asked of the people was to provide their sons to the war effort and then to “go shopping.” When our lauded “all-volunteer military” were insufficient, the National Guard were pressed into service. Mercenary soldiers were hired at great expense so that the sons of the rich were not needed, except as officers, of course.

Now that “the cows have come home”, our nation is financially broken, our jobs have been sent to other nations, and another depression is on our shoulders, another president is trying to set us back on the path to recovery. The same resentment is being demonstrated by the Republicans but not in the same way. They travel in droves to locations in order to meet, carry signs that would have put them in jail during the Bush years, they disrupt President Obama with insulting remarks during official addresses, and, in general, behave like a roomful of spoiled brats in kindergarten.

Of course, having lived the life of privileges that were denied to all too many of us, they feel that they are entitled to the same preferential treatment they have always received. They have no knowledge of or desire for the miserable sacrifices that were made by their parents abd grandparents in order to guarantee their very existence. They somehow have the idea that they, and only they, have the right to force those less “worthy” to suffer for the continuation of those privileges.

At one time the Republican Party was one that believed in spending no more than you could afford. However, another tenet of that belief was that one must pay the bills before discretionary spending for things like food and clothing. The watchword was, “Make it do, make it yourself, or do without.” Today’s quazi-Republicans should sit down with their older generation who will describe the differences between then and now and why this ain’t your daddy’s Grand Old Party.

When I turned 21, in 1951, I proudly marched to the polls to help elect “Ike”, our hero of World War II. General Eisenhower could have been elected by running on either party but he declared that he had always been a Republican, having grown up in Kansas and considering it his home. Kansans supported him overwhelmingly, both as a native son and as a representative of their brand of Republicanism. History agreed with us as he became probably the most successful president of the twentieth century and we still feel his presence in our daily lives, whether or not we actually think of it.

The nation was in the usual post-war slump with a war to pay for, mills and factories to convert back to peace-time manufacturing, foreign nations looking to us for help with their reconstruction, the most massive military machine to that time in history to relocate and re-allocate, veterans to educate, house, and heal to get them back to their previous status. Demand for housing soared as new families were added to the population, and we met their demand for home financing, student assistance, and relocation.

President Eisenhower recalled the difficulties encountered in moving materiel across the country during the war and decided that our highway system was antiquated and deteriorated. At the same time we were paying for the just-completed war while still maintaining a military presence all over the world, he determined that we should have a nation-wide network of “super highways.” Being a good Republican, he adhered to the notion of first paying the bills and so tax increases were necessary. Tax rates on the upper brackets of income soared to the ninety per-cent range but people paid it and still prospered. Ike also presided over the extension of Social Security Disability Income coverage to handicapped and disabled people and approved the first steps to establish civil rights for African-Americans.

In recalling the halcyon days of Eisenhower, marked by the first positive actions in furthering our United Nations efforts to keep the peace in Korea, and the rumblings of the Communists in Vietnam, he, and we, continued strong in our determination to build a better world, no matter the cost. In that light, the Republican Party of today becomes an oxymoron. Eisenhower realized that a prosperous America depended on a happy and healthy populace who would be ready and able to mobilize in support of whatever national emergency should arise. Today’s Republicans show absolutely no empathy with the plight of the working man, much less the poor and the aged. They operate on the Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules.

Today’s Republicans appear to have no relationship to that of the past. They are quite willing to allow the poor to die of starvation or medical neglect in order to save the rich man’s dollars. They discount the fact that the Federal government has any obligation to the governed other than “keeping them safe” by waging war on the people’s credit card.

They are unwilling to pay the bills that are necessary to treat our war veterans for their injuries, to repair our Eisenhower-era infrastructure, or to subsidize the research and development for the long-term growth of our economy.

Their reason for this reluctance? Because it would cost money! They protest that our nation is economically broken by “big-government spending” which has put us deeply into debt and the only answer is to spend less. One is tempted to borrow from the comedians and ask, “How broke are we?” Their response might be to let the jobless eat dirt, sick children die in their mothers’ arms, and old people “go up into the mountains and give up the ghost.” You may listen all day to Congressional discussion without hearing words like “compassion,” “charity,” or “duty”.

But nobody dares to suggest that taxes be raised. We have the same problems that we had when Eisenhower took the presidency and they claim to represent the same political party. Why, then, is it heresy for them to face the facts and raise taxes on the wealthy? At a time when faced with the same problems we have now, with a nation that was poverty-stricken but managed to win a tremendous war, a Republican president was able to unite us, guide us through it, and make our nation better than ever. Why can we not do it now when taxation rates are only a third of the Eisenhower level?

History shows us that, over the course of two hundred plus years, whenever out country is in trouble, an honest disclosure of it by our leaders will generate an out pouring of effort that is amazing. The rank-and-file citizens will perform any chore, suffer any hardship, and pay any price to set it right and to get our destiny back on track. Those who would lead us with lies while pretending patriotism will be rewarded with failure and any who are unwilling to make those sacrifices in the interests of their own wealth or power lie when they profess their love for our nation.

When President George W. Bush took office, we had a balanced budget with surplus projected far into the future. Then we began a war “on the cuff” with no increase in taxes, no mobilization efforts, supplementing the efforts of our limited armed forces by the hiring, at great expense, of private mercenaries. Money was expended by the Treasury without accounting and spent without any effort at control. Billiions of dollars in cash were sent overseas and no accounting can be made for its use while a massive tax cut reduced our ability to pay for it. Now, our Congressmen, of the party of Ike, want us to force the poor of our nation to pay the bills on pain of their very lives..

President Eisenhower rests in well-earned peace with the honors that he deserved. Perhaps it is just as well that he never knew what would happen to the precepts of national duty and honor in his own chosen and beloved political party. If he were alive today, he would hang his head in shame. In today’s political climate, he would not even qualify as a good Democrat! Our current “Democratic” president strives to find the “center” of the political spectrum while the Republicans keep moving the goal posts. Now President Obama finds himself fighting to maintain his equilibrium against a party that beggers the John Birch Society or the leadership of Senator McCarthy. Once again, they demonstrate no shame at their lack of humanity in their campaign enslave the working class and to turn the government over to the corporations by any means necessary.

God save America!

This writer is eighty years old and has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

Message for Alan Simpson: Sit down, shut up, Get lost!

Alan Simpson's lived his life eating at the public trough

When Alan Simpson left the Senate in 1997 to retire to his ranch on a cushy Federal pension, many Americans breathed a sigh of relief that we would no longer be exposed to his thoughtless rants of disregard for “we, the people”. Alas, we are again blasted with his sneering references to the poor and the old as sucking at the “cow” with 310 million “teats”, (a word to which he gives the archaic pronunciation). He hides behind the excuse that he is a “country boy” who is accustomed to “straight talk.” Well, I’m an old country girl who is quite familiar with that same straight talk and ready to give the world the “straight skinny.”

This old fool would have the American public believe that he, due to his years of Senate seniority, has more wisdom than we. This is not true! A look at his biography will demonstrate that, rather than having pulled himself up by his bootstraps, he has always been a child of privilege and that privilege has come from that same old “cow” whose “milk” he does not want to share. His father was a United States Senator before him and every opportunity that he has enjoyed in his life has resulted from his daddy’s position.

Senator Simpson, the younger, was graduated from college with a law degree and admitted to the bar in 1958 with his military obligation already satisfied, due to having spent a year in the Army in service in Germany, a chore which involved no combat. Rather than working hard to establish himself as a practicing attorney, he went straight to “public service” as, first, a lowly Assistant Attorney General of Wyoming, advancing rapidly until he found his way to the U.S. Senate in 1978.

So, for virtually every day of his life, he was supported by Federal funds which enabled him to attend college at a time when others were having to earn their living the hard way. At every step of his career, he benefited from his father’s influence as a United States Senator in political appointments that were not available to the underprivileged hoi polloi for whom he has such disdain.

Now, I not only understand his reference to the “cow”, I also recall the old country adage about dogs. When a new litter of puppies was born, they instinctively claim a position in the nursing order and this order was watched by the owner to see which puppy chose the teat that was most rearward on the mother. This puppy was believed to be the smartest, most healthy, and most desirable pup of the litter because he was the one who “sucked the hind teat.” Obviously, Senator Simpson has been “sucking the hind teat” all his life and it is time he moved over and demonstrated a bit of concern for the rest of the litter, a trait common in the dogs who began in this position.

Those of us with intact memories will recall that Senator Simpson has, from the beginning, been at the forefront of the Republican campaign to repeal every one of the humanitarian measures that have been passed over the years to fight poverty by the maintenance of the poor. From Roosevelt through Johnson, every president has fought to take care of the disabled and the elderly and have done so despite the opposition from the Republicans in Congress. To ask this man now to head a committee charged with the task of returning the national budget to a liquid state should be recognized as an open door to the continuation of his lifelong ambition. His proposals are sufficient evidence of his selfish determination to destroy any opportunity for the non-rich to live their sunset years in peace with a measure of financial security that is still far less then he has attained from his privileged existence.

Along with many other Americans, I have not been able to understand why he was the one whom President Obama called to chair the “deficit committee” but I do believe that Obama is regretting his choice and will not turn to the same pattern the next time he has a problem. I’m sure that Senator Simpson is enjoying his return to the public spotlight but the old codger should be gently replaced in his rocking chair and his Federal pension reduced to the levels of the Social Security upon which his fellow Americans must depend.

This writer is eighty years old and has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.