What Else We Know, by Rich Paschall
In many ways, my mother, and her mother too, were products of The Great Depression. My mother was born in 1920. She was nine was when the stock market crashed and the economy went straight to hell. People all over the world lost their jobs. Many did not have enough money for food or rent or other expenses. People were literally living and dying in the street. The Republican administration did not seem to know what to do about it.
“Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the strength of business in the United States is foolish,” Herbert Hoover told the country in 1929 as businesses closed and millions were out of work. The unemployment rate grew to 23 percent of Americans by 1932. As things got worse, the Republican president insisted in 1930 “The worst is behind us.” He did not see or refused to see the starvation and desperation in the nation. He did not believe in handouts and insisted people tighten their belts and get back to work.
My grandmother and my mother thought the Democrat who followed Hoover in office was the greatest of all presidents. He put America back to work and helped the poor and the elderly. There were many of the opposition Party who did not like the president and accused him of being a socialist. For those with jobs, food, Social Security, and the promise of a better day, FDR was their man and they gave him four terms. When Republicans again had control of Congress, they quickly moved to limit the terms of the President to two. What did we learn from all that?
“In those days we feared fear. That was why we fought fear. And today, my friends, we have won against the most dangerous of our foes. We have conquered fear.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The Neighborhoods Changed
“There used to be a candy store there,” my mother said as we passed through an old and a rather run-down part of town many years ago. “I used to work there.” That was in the late 1930s. In the Uptown neighborhood, she would point out the giant Aragon Ballroom where the big bands used to come and play. “We used to go dancing there,” she liked to say. Ironically, the Aragon Ballroom was making a strong comeback. A scene from Batman vs. Superman was shot there in 2015. Live concerts came to the Aragon, then came the pandemic.
Mom could point to many places in the neighborhood that had changed. As you know, change is inevitable. But it was the changes of the 1930s that stuck with her into the 21st century. Will the changes of 2020 stick with us?
Many businesses could not survive the long shutdown mandated by state and local governments as a way of fighting off the coronavirus. The city issued warnings and citations to those who violated the shutdown orders. Some lost their business licenses.
As I walk down Montrose Avenue on the north side of Chicago, I can see the closure of “Our Local Business,” the restaurants, bars, tailor shops, barbershops, a bike shop, and a cell phone store. Many of these will not return. Some old buildings that housed failed businesses are gone as well. Yes, changes would have come to the neighborhood over time, but all of these? All at once?
We Changed Too
Just like the traumatic event that had affected the lives of my parents and grandparents, this long pandemic that tortured the soul of our nation will stay with most of us. Those who lived in denial since early 2020 will likely die in denial. Some of them have died already.
Many of my generation did not want to die of this virus. We had survived the 1960s and 70s, for gosh sake, we were not going to let this do us in before our time, whatever that may be.
Our only response to change was to adapt. We stayed home as much as possible. We washed our hands. We socially distanced. We wore masks in public. We changed our lifestyle because it was the only sensible response to a virus we knew little about.
If you are young, let’s say under 25, perhaps COVID-19 will just be a blip on your radar. For most of the rest, we will live a changed life. While you run out for more toilet paper, we will stock up on soap and hand sanitizer.
Our Essential Workers
It is easy to say doctors and nurses are essential workers. Firefighters and paramedics are too. Nursing home workers and school teachers are also essential. Everyone who showed up to work in a hospital ravaged by the coronavirus was essential, attendants, receptionists, everyone willing to walk through the hospital door and go to work.
Bus drivers and subway drivers were needed to take other essential workers to their jobs. While many stores and restaurants closed, grocery store clerks willing to see people all day, some not properly wearing masks, were essential.
The jobs of some of my co-workers and myself may be necessary, but we were not as essential as some of our colleagues. We were told to “Pack Up and Go Home,” while other office workers and warehouse staff had to stay on-site as drivers and messengers came throughout the day to keep freight moving.
If you did not know whose job was “essential” before, you may have discovered it was a lot more than you were thinking.
“America will not forget these recent years, will not forget that the rescue was not a mere party task. It was the concern of all of us. In our strength, we rose together, rallied our energies together, applied the old rules of common sense, and together survived.” – FDR. “A Rendevous With Destiny”
See also: “OUR PANDEMIC LEGACY,” What We Have Learned So Far, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, May 10, 2021.
“PACK UP AND GO HOME,” One Year On, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, March 15, 2021.
“OUR LOCAL BUSINESS,” The Pandemic Legacy, Sunday Night Blog, rjptalk.wordpress.com. May 9, 2021.