Tuesday, April 13, 2010

There's always something to worry about

I am going through two cedar chests stuffed with family photos, letters, baby shoes, wedding invitations, condolence cards, and everything else that my grandmothers thought worthy of saving - and that escaped my mother's periodic purges.

I am now the matriarch, the grandmother, the keeper and purger of memorabilia. It's a hard job, this sorting and labeling. Everything must be read, sometimes two or three times. Letters raise questions that demand research. I may never finish this job.

Meanwhile, I am finding strange reassurance in the voices from my family's past. Apart from Uncle Erwin, who died from TB in 1912 at age 20, most of my relatives lived long and, if they didn't prosper, neither did they starve. Great-grandmother Harriet (front row, second from left in the 1908 photo above) lived 87 years; Great-aunt Mabel (front row left), 103; Grandmother Eda (front row right), 91; Great-great Aunt Emma, somewhere between 101 and 104.

And yet they worried about the same things that worry us still:
Populist uprising against excessive government spending
About 1910, probably from a high-school speech by Erwin Pease : "A protest is arising from all parts of the country against the indiscriminate expenditure of public funds. 'Economy' has been adopted as the watchword of the present administration; but, as long as a large part of the American dollar is spent for things other than necessities, can we expect a marked improvement in governmental expenditure?"

Hospital infections
July 25, 1920, Mary Knisely to Harriet Schaper : "I wonder if you know that your cousin Minerva McCeown Lehman died a few weeks ago. She was at a hospital taking treatment for nervousness when she tore her fingernail off and blood poisoning set in and killed her."

Price gouging
November 29, 1924, Emma J. Knisely to her sister, Harriet Schaper, after explaining that good raisins cost 50 cents a pound : "Now it seems ridiculous when we know that the rancher only gets 2 1/2 cts per lb. for the best. It seems they have Sociations and the Rancher signs an agreement to sell all he has to them and it makes it hard to buy anything from them and we have almost quit trying.... The Merchants stick together and let things spoil before they will sell at a reasonable price."

March 27, 1925, Eda Pease to her mother, Harriet Schaper : "We are not safe any where. In Portland so many houses are robbed. In Eugene some thieves took everything there was in one small store."

December 30, 1947, Norval Pease to his mother, Eda Pease : "No end of work, even during vacation."

Weather disasters
December 30, 1955, Mabel Buck to her sister, Eda Pease : "Have had such a rainy spell, and so much flooding, we are miles from it, but reports say it has been the worst disaster since the 1906 earthquake disaster."
Some of my relatives spent most of their long lives fearfully considering the evils that might befall them. Others - primarily the ones who had moved to California - preferred to write about the fine winter weather and lovely flowers. This may be a lesson on worry: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow : for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6:34). Or maybe it's just one more good reason to move back to California.

Book recommendation: The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible! by Otto L. Bettmann.

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