Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Family Folklore: Why Mary's a Democrat
My dear friend Mary Connell - a talented journalist and newspaper editor - is also a gifted writer. She recently sent me this guest blog about her reasons for being a Democrat. The reasons date back to family stories that not only touch her as an adult but also reveal values that were instilled in her at a very young age. These are the gifts of family folktales.
I was going through some of my grandmother's old things the other day and was reminded yet again of why I'm a Democrat.
I came across her FHA mortgage passbook, issued by the Turtle Creek Bank & Trust of Turtle Creek, Pa. Her home, at 412 James St. in Turtle Creek, is lovely. Brick, two stories, three bedrooms upstairs. Not fancy, but comfortable. A beautiful stained glass window over the front door, a big, airy, high-ceilinged kitchen and a nice backyard.
My Uncle John took me to see it in the summer of 1980 and we met the couple who lived there. They were very gracious and sent me home with two souvenirs -- a huge, gorgeous tomato just picked from the backyard and a shiny lump of Pennsylvania coal from the cellar. I still have that chunk of coal.
It wouldn't have been my grandmother's first passbook because it begins in October 1938 and the family had rented the house at least from the mid-1920s. The FHA was created in 1934 but I can't say when my grandmother bought the house. She made monthly payments of $25.47 until May 1946, when she sold the house, leaving a balance of $867. In November, she and her younger daughter, my Aunt Gertrude, packed up their car -- a Hudson? I can't remember -- and headed West, a trip that provided my cousins and me with wonderful stories of being freed from a snow drift by hulking Texas Rangers and seeing Indian women going to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 5, in Tucumcari, N.M. with their babies on their backs. It must have been an exotic sight. Makes me want to travel the old Route 66.
Without FDR and the New Deal my widowed grandmother -- my grandfather died in November of 1930, five months after my mom graduated from high school -- would never have been able to buy that home, least of all during the Depression. She was fortunate to be hired to run a WPA - women's sewing project; I think the ladies made Civilian Conservation Corp uniforms. The FHA, Social Security, an array of farm programs and a great deal more transformed America, providing opportunities for everyday people that had previously been enjoyed only by the upper middle class -- just like the G.I. Bill would do after the war.