Thursday, October 5, 2017

Blue Collar White Men Used To Be Tough

                                                             Image result for dancing the jitterbug

This is usually a political blog but I have to take a break from Trump et al for a while. America in 2017 is just too depressing for constant consumption. I'm backing off on watching so much news and spending so much time on Facebook. When I was working, I had Sirius radio in my car and it was always on NASCAR or news programs. I cancelled it when I retired since I'm not in the car that much.

I listened to AM and FM for a while but yuck, their song choices are mostly awful and the reception fades in and out.

So finally I dug out some of my old CDs, some of which I haven't listened to for years. The first one I made because it brought back such good memories of my youth and included Beer Barrel Polka and Twelfth Street Rag.

As soon as I heard the rinky tink piano of Twelfth Street Rag, it took me back to the Logansport Eagles in the 50's when Big Tiny Little and his band played.  My family was a dancing family...all of them (they were also a gambling family and a drinking family). We'd go down to the Eagles on a Saturday night and there would usually be 20 or so of us - parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends. Everybody would dance with everybody. Mom's with boyfriends and uncles with us little girls. My two cousins and I were preteens then and that's where we learned to dance - dances like the Jitterbug and the Charleston. My Grammie always told us girls, "don't get hooked up with a man who won't dance."

That CD went on to play Elvis. He was us girls' first experience with having a crush on a movie star. (Before him, there was Kookie in 77 Sunset Strip but that wasn't quite so serious). We three saw Love Me Tender together at the Logansport State Theater. Besides the money for our ticket, the folks always gave us an extra 15 cents - a nickel for a Coke, a nickel for a bag of popcorn and a nickel for a candy bar. Sometimes, they popped for a chocolate soda at the Blue Front Drug Store afterwards.

The older generations in my family had it rough. During the depression my widowed grandmother got a job as a housekeeper but the lady of the house wouldn't let her bring her children so she gave over my two aunts (who were in the neighborhood of 10 or 11 years old) to a Catholic hospital. They worked in return for room and board and a small stipend. My Uncle Jim was about 6. They hid him in their bedroom and sneaked part of their food back to him.

Meanwhile my Dad, who was a teenager, took a train to Detroit and got a job in a steel mill. The men on the line were supposed to get bathroom breaks but when Dad asked the foreman for someone to take his place, the man poked him in the back with the cattle prod he carried and said, "piss in your pants, you son-of-a-bitch, there are 25,000 men waiting for your job". And Dad said there really were lines of men outside just hoping someone would collapse or get fired or simply walk away and leave an opening for them.

You know what though, I remember my whole family as being jolly. They'd play poker all night or roll back the rug and dance. There were often feuds going on. My Grandma's maiden name was Nussbaum and she said her family feuded too but they were so nibby about what was going on with the others, that someone would finally say, "I wonder what the Nussbaum schmact," which meant I wonder what the Nussbaum's are up to and their curiosity would drive them to resolve their difference.

There was no welfare back then and Grammie's iron-clad rule was that family's took care of their own. She kept a "kitty" in the pantry and everyone was supposed to donate whatever they could and when anyone found themselves "in a crack" as she called it, they were welcome to take some money out. Anyone who came into the family stayed - ex-husbands and wives, ex-fiances. Grammie incorporated them into the group. The more members the stronger was the unit, she thought.

They were gamblers in another way too. None of them ever stayed very long in one spot or in one job. They sold insurance or worked in machine shops or on the railroad or owned bars. They were always ready to leave what they had behind to head to California or Arizona or Florida to see what was going on there.

Hard lives or not, I don't remember that our fathers and uncles and brothers being part of the Angry White Man Syndrome like we have today. They didn't expect much from government. They pretty much took responsibility for themselves. If the steel mills closed in East Chicago, they went somewhere else and found another job.

The right-wing calls people like me snowflakes because we have compassion for others but I think it is them that are so delicate, they whine at the slightest sign of hardship. I get sick of hearing them.  That's why I'm listening to The Twelfth Street Rag instead of talk radio.

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