Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Negatives into Positives

When I was given a box of old photos of my family, there was also an envelope filled with hundreds of original negatives. At first I didn't think too much about that as I wasn't sure what I could do with them. When I got the idea of scanning them and creating positive images, it opened up a whole new world as well as took up hours of my days for awhile as I figured out which ones would be important to scan.

Through these photos I saw my ancestors, many of whom I didn't know their names but they were together for big gatherings, picnics, celebrations, and they were having fun. The old, the young, they were all valued and it shows. Sometimes I can figure out names based on other labeled photos, but many I will never know. It didn't matter really as I became immersed in their world. The clothing, relationships to each other, the background, the things they valued, those were what mattered more than names. I wish I knew more of their stories, but some aren't hard to guess from their positions in the photos.

How different the world was back then. Think about it as it's not all that many years. Probably 100 at the most and generally more like 70 or 80. It was a world so very different and yet in basics, weren't needs still a lot the same?

The photo at the top was not one of the negatives. I got it as a print and it was labeled. It was my father's grandfather sitting on his porch with what is my great great grandmother, the mother of their ten children, some of whom lived to be old and some who died prematurely. These people came from those who had come to America in the 1600s, who had worked to establish lives for themselves and spread across the continent. I have known only a few things about them based on some of my own genealogy research a few years ago.

Based on that research, the man in the picture was born in Indiana in the mid 1800s. He left there for Nebraska and then South Dakota and he basically had children born in both states, most in Nebraska as the family traveled to where he could find work. The picture above is likely close to the end of his life. He (and most of my family from that era) was buried in Hill City, South Dakota.

In a 1900 census, my great grandfather labeled himself a hard rock miner. He probably had very little formal education and learned what he did in the world of hard work. I know he was one of the first in the Black Hills working for the mines as my grandfather was (according to family legend) in 1880 the first white child born there when it was illegal to be there.

If that strong looking old man had gotten too old to work, he'd have had to hope his family would take care of him and his wife as he would have had no company pension and there was no Social Security. Medicare? You jest. Unemployment? You went hungry. Illnesses, well there wasn't a lot they could do anyway for illnesses-- doctors affordable or not. Great Grandfather died at 65 in Deadwood S.D. He likely worked until the end. What choice did most like him have?

This blog is not about him but about all of those like him, the working people; and it's about the purported evils of government in all those emails that seem to circulate regularly. You know the ones that see a bad guy out there intending to take away this country's good life. The emails ignore the good government has done for working people. Those angry words ignore all the ways it has changed our lives from what my family would have expected back then.

Without government helping, would you have a free internet today? What about television? Suppose the radio wavelengths had no regulation, how well would that work? And banks. Well they just failed sometimes and you lost all your savings. Schools? Most just got through eighth grade if they made it that far. People had to go to work much younger than today. Owning their own homes? Some did but those homes didn't have inside plumbing and often weren't much more than wood structures. Building standards? Who would have guaranteed them? Electric wiring? What for?

Vacations? Well if someone got any days off, they were likely without pay. I remember my family vacations. You drove as fast as you could from place to place, and you didn't go far because you couldn't afford to. Freeways to get farther faster? Not back then. Eisenhower really instigated the national freeway system. For all the evils that are being screamed about Social Security, now people don't have to fear disability or old age. It's not like either give much money but just enough to subsist when people cannot work.

I am incredibly proud of the people from whom I came. Every picture I scan of them reminds me over again what a tough and hardy people they were. They knew how to play and their photos show how much. They knew how to work hard and most did it their whole lives. They all came from Europe whether early or later but they came with the hope that they could make a better living for themselves in this country.

Most of us today have had that good life as we went through a very good time for the middle class; but there is a group in this country who is determined to end that and they are getting help from an unlikely source, the very ones who do need government.

You know, multibillionaires didn't lose out during this recession/depression. When the government pulled back from regulating financial practices, a lot of people made a lot of money by just pushing money around. The richest did not lose theirs. What dip they had went right back up and beyond.

Basically we need more government, not less and we need it to be more effective and aimed at helping people with better lives. Government, which is the sharing of a small part of our resources for a better America, needs to be held accountable. I am not saying I don't have concern for the current deficit, but I blame that on those who want everything for nothing. They see a program they like, say a state of the art military or building highways and whatever it is, they expect it to be paid for by manna from heaven.

It's worth repeating. Government is meant to be all of us working together to share some of our wealth to make life better for us all. It should be run by elected representatives who express our views, people who care about laws, fairness, wisdom, and yes, how the weakest are treated. It should not be bought and paid for by the corporate interests.

Michael Moore, who is so hated by the right wing, did an excellent documentary on what has been happening to us. Capitalism: A Love Story will not be watched by the right wing, nor by the ones who claim to love this country but are currently inciting a revolution. People like that don't want to see anything he puts out. They still believe the-- we can have it all if we just get back in power-- mantra. They are not aware how much they are being used and not to their profit.

In the documentary, Moore had only one place that I thought he was wrong (not blaming Clinton for a lot of what went wrong with financial regulations) but in the end, it was more about what is happening now and what can we do about it. He said it well-- he can't fix it. Obama can't fix it either. If more people don't start caring, it won't be fixed. Too many people in government are being paid off by those who do care enough. Moore though in general made it very clear that what we are facing right now is a mutual sell-out by both parties in power.

We can turn this around but it won't happen by putting down government as the bad guy. It will happen when we force government to be what it should be for the good of the people and not just the rich. We could turn it around by paying attention to what the Constitution really says.
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."


Parapluie said...

I have nothing to add because this blog should stand as is without any distracting commentary. I wish it was in the New York Times.

Paul said...

I have a few pictures of long dead relatives and I wish that I had more. Family history is a fascinating topic for me ...

Kay Dennison said...

What Diane said. This positively brilliant!

robin andrea said...

I'm always impressed by the strength of your arguments and logic, rain. I like how you started out with the photos of your family, and how life was for them.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Wonderful Post, Rain....I agree with you and all that you said....(including Clinton's responsability in the regulations...) And you said it all BEAUTIFULLY, my dear! Brilliantly, actually!

I love that your people lived and worked in DEADWOOD. Were they there during those Lawless days? I would think so, according to thedates you mentioned.
Have you ever seen that HBO Series "DEADWOOD"...It was so very very good. How accurate, I don't know, but my impression was it was quite accurate.

mandt said...

Well done Rain---superb post!

Annotated Margins said...

Yes... if we actually took the Constitution seriously, we'd find it to be a rather intelligent document.

~ Sil in Corea said...

Well said, indeed! We need to become proactive in choosing people of integrity to serve, and I mean *serve.* Gaining wealth and power are not proper motivations for public servants.

Oops, sorry, I'll get down off the soapbox. :-)

Thanks for saying so well what I've been thinking.

Hugs from Asia, ~ Sil