Everything Old is New Again
When I was a little girl, back when the depression was ending and WWII was beginning, we had what we referred to as “bums” coming to the back door every now and then, wanting something to eat or drink. Or money, which of course no one had. Now the term “bums’ is politically incorrect, but in those days we called it as we saw it. Not always dainty.
These homeless folks seemed always to be men. We never saw homeless women or children and I ponder on that. Of course now we have conquered the gender barrier and women have earned the right to be homeless also, along with their children. Judging from the men hanging around the end of the route of the streetcar line across a busy street from a tavern six blocks from our house, I now realize that most if not all of these men had drinking problems. The men were judged “bums.” Fast forward to the 21st century andLarimer Street and look in some of the doorways at night.
At the height of the depression, when the horrible Dust Bowl Days had ravaged the Great Plains of Kansas,Nebraska,Eastern Colorado, and other states, men would travel the country, hitching rides on railroad box cars and appear at people’s back doors asking for a plate of food in exchange for a few hours of labor. No one had any money.
Today a young man appeared at our door, asking for money in exchange for work—any kind of work—for a few hours. We looked at our lawn covered in pine needles from the previous month’s snow and wind storms and offered the young man a ten dollar bill—a plate of food 21st century style. In retrospect this was a perfect arrangement: he eats again today and our lawn is cleared.
My husband and I see a strong connection between the “Great Depression” and this “Recession.” We cringe when we see the media joyfully touting the lowering
unemployment numbers, the (slight) rise in home sales, the return of consumerism. Not so fast, I want to say. What about this young man—laid off and jobless. What about the many people about to lose their homes. And what about the families living in their cars.
John Steinbeck showed us these pictures in The Grapes of Wrath and we read the book and shuddered. This can never happen inAmerica, we said. Never again will we have such a Depression. Until now when history is repeating itself. Everything old is new again in our country. I have a feeling that this young man outside raking our lawn will be the first of many in the months and perhaps the years to come.