“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens” (Eccl 3) and, for me, a child during the Great Depression, this a time to reminisce.
Rose, my middle daughter, has me writing my memories so that my children and grandchildren will know who I am and what I did. As a birthday gift, she bought me a membership in a website that gathers my essays and will publish them in a coffee-table book for the family.
As I answer a question my daughter asks me each week, I realize that we who endured the Depression could easily have concluded we were born at the wrong time. I look at my left hand and see the odd shape of my little finger, split during a farm accident and never stitched back together because my parents could not get to a doctor 20 miles away from our isolated 200-acre farm in the foothills of northern New Mexico.
When I chew, my front teeth do not work as well as they should because I have an open bite, which could have been corrected by an orthodontist if we had been able to afford one. We did not see any doctors or dentists until we grew up.
Yet, when I reflect on my life, I realize that I was born at a good time. As the oldest of 10 children, I could not expect any help to go to college, but I worked my way through, earning a degree in journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Tuition was $200 a semester when I started.
What young person today can graduate from a public college, much less a Catholic institution, without acquiring a crushing debt? Eight of my brothers and sisters also graduated from college, one with a Ph.D. in chemistry and another with a degree in dentistry and a specialty in periodontics. All of them did it without going into debilitating debt and all have had successful careers.
One brother took 11 years to earn his degree in education. Then, after he retired, he worked as a volunteer at his parish. But he missed the classroom, and now, about to celebrate his 80th birthday, he still teaches Spanish at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Denver and loves it.
Early in my career, I was a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, a Scripps-Howard newspaper. I received only $100 a week. But I had health insurance, paid by my employer, covering all the expenses of the birth of the two children born to us while there. When I visited years later, there were two classes of reporters, those who were full time with benefits and those working only enough hours so that the employer could deny them any.
We had three more children. I have a Mother’s Day photograph of Penny and our five children all dressed up in their Sunday best sitting on the front steps of our house in Kettering, Ohio, when I worked for George A. Pflaum, a publisher of Catholic educational materials.
Since it now could cost up to $16,000 to have a baby, we could not have afforded them. I was then earning only about $10,000 a year. But America was greater than it is now, with millions in a gig economy without health insurance, vacations and defined benefit pensions.
About 15 years ago, I gave a talk to a group in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A woman asked whether my parents and I were not irresponsible having so many children. “Not at all,” I answered. “We had faith things would work out — and they did.”
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