News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 7, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: We always want more than we need

Liz Ciancone
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Washington seems more preoccupied with the unemployment rate than they are about the constant stalemate. Still with thousands out of work and the unemployment rate hovering somewhere between 7 percent and 9 percent, it does deserve more than a passing nod.

My Best Friend and I worried the topic the other morning coming in from the Sports Center. We started thinking about “The Great Depression.” Of course there was nothing great about it. It drug on for years and I had kids in my schools at Stockton and Yorkville who had no lunch to carry while neither school boasted a cafeteria. They would not have had money to buy lunch even if there had been one.

My Best Friend recalled that sometimes he went to a neighbor for lunch and that it was quite an adventure. Rosa and her husband were “on relief” which meant that they were eligible for surplus canned goods. They had no choice and, since labels were torn from the cans, she had no idea of what would be served for lunch. My BF developed a fondness for canned creamed corn which persists. Creamed corn was, obviously, not a hot ticket for those with money, but it did fill up the stomach.

We both remember that our mothers fed the unemployed who passed through towns hoping to find a few hours or days of work so they could have a few coins to jingle in their pockets. They always offered to “pay” for a meal by performing tasks around the yard or in the house.

Rockford boasted a “hobo camp” along the Rock River not far from my BF’s home. He and his friends liked to go down and talk to these men. They were good men, just down on their luck, and the boys were never forbidden to go.

Meanwhile in Stockton and Yorkville, Mom played hostess to a succession of Dad’s former shipmates who were out of work. They stayed for varying periods. I especially remember one man whose son phoned from Pocatello, Idaho, to tell his father that there was a job there driving a city bus. He hitched a ride and he made it! We heard from him for years.

One friend refused to wear black shoes until the day he died. He explained that black shoes were provided for those on relief and he did not want folks to think that he couldn’t afford to buy his own shoes.

I recently read that unemployment in the 1930s ran above 20 percent. Now we are aghast when it hits 8 percent or 9 percent. But with a family to support, unemployment is no joke, especially if you are included in that 8 percent or 9 percent.

We all want so much more than we need these days. Still we wouldn’t like to have to open a mystery can for our lunch.