Monday, September 22, 2008

A depression story appropriate for today

On the way up in the elevator to the Denver Auditor’s Office early this morning, with the largest Us Government financial bailout, yes, the very same 700 billion bailout of our financial crisis on everyone’s mind, someone asked me, “Auditor, are we heading for a 1929 Depression?”

I told him we are in for a lot of major economic pain and it will be very depressing.

I thought of my mother and her parents who lived at 2528 Hooker in North Denver. I always think of that house when the Great Depression comes to mind. The house sat just west of Old St. Dominic’s Church at West 25th and Grove Streets. When the Dominican Friars ran out of food for the homeless during the Great Depression, the 1929 Depression, they would say “Go over there to Mrs. Flaherty, she always keeps sandwiches in her ice box.” I remember that ice box, with heavy wooden and metal doors, and I often enjoyed slamming the doors, loud clanging thunder.

My mother told me she once asked her mother, “Mom, why do we give those guys from the roads and rail yard the sandwiches?

She answered that in Ireland, the place of her birth; it was customary to give strangers and travelers food without question. The legend had it that it could be a test by God to test the charity of an individual for which one could be accountable on the final day of reckoning.

“You know, Nellie, one of these men from the rail yards, could be St. Joseph in disguise to test our charity and to text our faith,” my grandmother added.

One day, my grandmother heard my mother slam the kitchen door on a solicitous traveler.

My grandmother rushed into the kitchen from the small dining room and asked, “Nellie, why did you slam the door on that poor man?”

“Momma, that man was no St. Joseph, that man had the smell of liquor on his breath,” my mother responded indignantly.

Without a pause, my grandmother shouted to her, “Nellie, go get that man and bring him back, it could be St. Patrick himself.”

At all our family reunions, the air was thick with Depression stories, depressing orphanage stories, years of painful homelessness and families divided.

I was hoping my son, Daniel, and all his many cousins might be spared the anvil test of a Great Depression. I was hoping they might not face a painful economic reckoning and depressing stories at family gatherings. Now I am not so sure.

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