On a few earlier occasions we ran some essays by Evangeline McAllister. In the 1930’s she wrote for the Minatare (Nebr) Free Press, under the heading of “The Sage Hen.”
If you have not already done so, please go back and read those original articles to get acquainted.
With an eye toward societal attitudes of 2010, today we reprint her October 29, 1936 article. We apologize for the length, but felt it best to reprint uncut.
“What Price Sympathy”
by Evangeline McAllister
(October 29, 1936)
I can understand the dislike of the wealthy for President Roosevelt. But why the poor should turn against him…. The very unfortunate who, before the Roosevelt regime, were thumbing rides from desolation to desperation, today are eating three times on relief, or CCC; VCC, or WPA wages and making the air blue with maledictions on their benefactor.
Is it the ingratitude and envy the poor relations feel toward their benevolent rich uncle? Or just the great American instinct to strafe the Umpire? It reminds me of James Blaine’s remark when he heard a certain man was abusing him.
“I don’t see what he has against me,” Blaine sighed, “I never did him a favor.”
It’s my guess that 99 out of every hundred such, who are worrying about the terrible tax burden Roosevelt is imposing upon their grandchildren, have nothing to tax, and without some Good Samaritan like the president to save them and their children from starving, wouldn’t have any grandchildren either.
The common people are supposed to be those who believe only what they can see, and but half of that. Even on that basis, there should be a few votes lost to Roosevelt.
In the course of … well, let’s say several administrations, in which I have enjoyed the privileges of American citizenship, I have never before seen so much actual tangible improvement to show for our tax money as we have about us today … improved roads, bridges, parks, old and new, trees planted, etc. Human improvements too … the old, sheltered and fed … boys and girls at that in-between stage between high school and adulthood given work that enabled many to stay in school … others given jobs which paid for their own keep with some left over for the folks at home.
Those whose business required them to be on the road during the hard winters of 1931, ‘32 and ‘33 will recall that they were black with hitchhikers. Shuffling, hopeless, sheepish … bold, arrogant, demanding … old men, boys and women … little families, one baby in arms and another one or two or three sitting on the family suitcase … trying to get back home to the Folks in Iowa or to that nice Mr. Brown, who promised them work in the summer of 1928. But now, if they had only known it, that nice Mr. Brown was having his own troubles, and was laying off, not putting on, help.
Against the advice of wiser people, I used to pick them up and pump them. In that way, they paid for their transportation, whether they realized it or not. One man I remember especially. It was in the fall of 1933, and he was heading east from Scottsbluff along the paved highway toward Minatare. It was toward evening, but he was bent beneath a heavy pack and limping, so I picked him up. He was going to Conrad Hessler’s to work in the beets. He had found someway that Conrad needed helpers. He told me he hailed from Akron, Ohio, the rubber goods town … that last winter, of the 27,000 men normally employed in Akron industries, but 3,000 had regular work, “And I’ll tell you lady, if it hadn’t been for the warm winter, we’d have seen revolution … That was all that saved us … the warm winter.”
A dangerous Red? A vile un-American type? No. Men do not come a thousand miles from home to limp along under heavy packs and bend their backs in unaccustomed labor because they are dangerous radicals. This was just a man with a family … a wife and two children, who was seeing America, not through the eyes of the “Everything will be lovely bye and bye” school, but first hand.
One day the same fall, I was coming into Minatare from the south, and a west-bound freight just beat me to the crossing. While I waited, I happened to count the men and boys clinging to one side of that freight train, who were presumably headed for California. There for forty-five of them. I have always had a curiosity to know how many there were on the other side.
And then, in the spring of 1933 that terrible destroyer, that undisciplined spender, Franklin D Roosevelt took office… and the highways that once gave a good imitation of Fifth Avenue at the dinner hour, except perhaps for the costumes, became strangely deserted. There were hitchhikers on but one side of the road at a time … and then no hitchhikers to speak of. The pool rooms, too, looked lonesome. So many boys in the CCC camps. One mother, who had hardscrabble to get by with her family, told me:
“I was worried for fear George would take cold on that work. He wasn’t used to being outdoors. But when he came home, he had good clothes, warm wool, good underwear, socks, jackets, everything he needed, and good ones too.”
The money he sent home helped the family mightily, and the five dollars George had left for himself was more than he had in any given year before.
George was a good boy, just out of high school, and through the men in charge of the camp he became interested in forestry. So after his time in the CCC was up, he went back in and saved enough with other jobs to go to agricultural college for a year, where he took forestry. George is married now and may never achieve his ambition to be a forest ranger. But how much cleaner and better all around was his experience than if Mr. Roosevelt had been … say, Mr. Shylock. Say what you will, a year in the CCC was up, he went back in good agricultural college beat two years in anybody’s poolroom.
And incidentally, George planted some trees.