It was decades ago. An older co-worker and I had become friends. He regaled me with stories of the not so distant past. It was a little like talking with a time traveler. Historical events are closer than we think.
He told me hysterical tales of live radio in the early days, before 10 second time delays or prerecorded shows. As a kid, he rarely missed one weekly children's broadcast. But he missed the day a storyteller at the end of a show thought his microphone was off. "That ought to hold the little bastards," my friend's childhood pals told him his hero had said on the air. He did hear a radio announcer once refer to the President of the United States as "Hoobert Heever." A broadcast based on Don Quixote came to a close as the narrator ran out of time. No problem. The show would continue the next day. The protagonist was riding on a donkey, which prompted the announcer to proclaim, "and so, until tomorrow, we leave Don Quixote, sitting on his ass." My older friend had a thousand tales.
Not all were about broadcasts. Some were about real life. He once closed his eyes and began talking about the old days of his youth. "You could get an entire meal for a dime," he said. He smiled, eyes still closed, thinking about it. "Problem was nobody had a dime."
He became emotional that afternoon. He remembered his father's shame as he told his family he was no longer employed. Loss of a job could be deadly. "People were at each others' throats." People migrated across the country, often told they weren't welcome. Old folks stood on street corners selling apples in order to survive. He told me about bodies occasionally found along lonely roads or in allies, having died of starvation.
When he spoke of FDR, it was with reverence. Years later, I was reminded of those stories as I heard about a Bill Clinton speech, before he became President, describing his grandfather's reaction to the New Deal. "He thought when he died, he'd go to Roosevelt." A funny line, with more than a grain of truth about many from those days, judging by my long since departed friend. Roosevelt was variously regarded as a traitor to his class, or more simply as "that man". But ordinary people loved him.
Social Security back then was considered radical. Herbert Hoover Republicans fought it tooth, nail, and claw. But old people began living longer. There was no comparable advance until after the murder of President Kennedy, when LBJ was able to galvanize the nation into passing Medicare, "Socialized Medicine," over the objections of conservatives.
I think of how my friend would regard those too young to have known real life-or-death economic fear. Some now say they would gladly give up Social Security or Medicare if it meant government would stay out of their lives. Such talk would puzzle and repulse the man I knew, the man who lived through those hardest of hard times.
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It is just too bad that the conservative mindset is always so far behind the curve in any generation. Their unwillingness to move slows progress and needlessly adds to much human misery.
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