Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Tag Archives: The Great Depression

Photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Moving Day, circa 1933

I was entranced by my mother’s stories – all about the dilemmas of the 30s, the Great Depression. Never reluctant was she to retell the travails of Little Charlotte On The Ice Floes:

Come the end of the month, Mom would murmur about rent money. Dad answered by mapping out the next dwelling. Late that night, my senses on high alert for footsteps in the stairwell, I was once again loaded by like a burro: Mom’s shedding fox pelt over all the clothes I could manage to put on. Frying pan in one hand, big can of lard in the other, more cans stuffed under my arms, and a colander for a hat.

Our family would disappear monthly into the dense fog or deep snow or sweltering summer Iowa night, carrying our weary, cumbersome life like a sad caravan. The stray mongrel, Tilly, toddled behind, tail between her legs – even she reflected the shame of poverty.

Dad would eventually stop our mule train to light a Lucky, smoke tailing skyward, ashes flicked onto the cement. He’d whistle. Mom would sigh. My big brother, Tommy, never complained about handling three satchels, as long as his beloved sax could be strapped to his back.

I’d struggle to keep up, a three-foot Five and Dime housewares department wrapped in cheap fur. So to answer your question, Amer…

…that’s why I never had a doll. Who would’ve carried the frypan?

 

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil, photo by the inimitable Dorothea Lange
For The Sunday Whirl: Cement, Cumberson, Answer, Reluctant, Murmur, Senses, Dense, Pelt, Smoke, Map, Entranced, Stray
Also at Poetic Asides, for the Poetry Pantry.


THE TRAIN CONDUCTOR

“End of the line,” called out the conductor, roaming car to car
Rail-thin and rangy, dignified in the spotless black uniform,
his timepiece gleamed at the end of a long gold chain.
Will was a good conductor, one of the best on the line.

He knew precisely the timeline, all destinations
His resonant voice calmed riders during bumps, holdups
and especially during inclement weather
He had a way with children; could recognize kids on their first ride,
fear and fascination dancing in their eyes

Will treated all workers with the same respect.
Never saw the color of their skin, only the quality of their service.
The last of a dying breed in the 1950s, both Will and the Rock Island Line,
as autos took to the highways and trains fell by the wayside,
rusting gravestones, remnants of the past.

He kept to himself, rarely shared stories about family.
Seemed troubled, standing off in a corner by himself on breaks.
But when tapped on the shoulder, came down to earth, immediately engaged.

The porters worried about Will, and the maids
saw his uneasiness; they prayed for him in church.
No one was surprised when, one foggy night
the man who knew the clockwork of each train, the routes of every line
was felled on the tracks and died.

“Accident,” read the report, thus ensuring widow’s benefits
for the wife he never talked about.
But she knew in her heart that for Will,
it was simply the end of the long, sad, lonely line.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Magpie Tales asked for poems about our ancestors. My great-great grandfather was a train conductor, amateur astronomer, introverted, extremely depressed man who help out my mother’s family during the Midwest Depression of the 1930s. I figured out the puzzle of his death, which the rest of the family never discussed.


Silken Softness

My mom, Charlotte,
grew up in Iowa.
Council Bluffs, to be exact.

Recession, then Depression
brought the town to its knees,
at least until corn season.

Mom said Grandma Blanche
could make anything
from corn in a skillet:

Corn cakes, corn pone,
corn bread, but the best was
corn alone.

In the field, the poor were
allowed to glean from
Old Man Jones’ field.

Yanking from stalks,
home to shuck the ears.
Corn silk was, for Charlotte,

a miracle, a treasure. She said,
“I hope someday my wedding dress
will be as soft as this corn silk.”

Blanche marveled at
how her girl could always
make magic from simple things.

It’s a Laughlin tradition,
passed from Blanche to Charlotte,
from Charlotte to lucky me.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Poets United, my favorite site, asked for food-inspired, home-grown tales. Can’t get more “down home” than this!