A Time Capsule From The 1930s: What’s Different Now

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

If we evaluate well being and endurance, well-being, safety, normal attitudes, household and neighborhood ties and values, we’d conclude that it’s we who’re impoverished.

We’re taking good care of my 92-year outdated mother-in-law right here at residence. She has the same old aches and pains and infirmities of superior age however her thoughts and reminiscence are nonetheless sharp. Her recollections of her childhood are like a time capsule from the Nineteen Thirties.

My mom-in-law has all the time lived in the identical normal neighborhood right here in Hawaii. She’s by no means lived greater than about 10 miles from the home the place she was born (lengthy since torn down) in 1931. Listening to her recollections (and asking for extra particulars) is to be transported again to the Nineteen Thirties, an period of widespread poverty unrelated to the Great Depression. Many individuals had been poor earlier than the Depression. They had been working arduous however their incomes had been low.

Prior to the vacationer increase initiated by statehood and inexpensive airfare, Hawaii’s economic system was classically colonial: giant plantations owned by a handful of rich households and/or firms (often known as The Big Five) employed 1000’s of laborers to boost and harvest sugar cane and pineapple. Pearl Harbor, Hickam air base and Schofield Barracks had been giant navy bases on Oahu. Travel between islands was costly (ferries) and every island was largely self-sufficient.

Even taking a bus for the 12-mile journey to the island’s sole metropolis was a uncommon luxurious, an tour that occurred just a few occasions a yr.

Plantation staff weren’t but unionized within the Nineteen Thirties, and wages had been round $20 a month for backbreaking subject labor–work carried out by each women and men. Typical of first and second-generation immigrant communities of the time, households had been usually giant. Six or seven kids was widespread and 9 or ten kids per household was not unusual. Many households lived in modest plantation-provided camps of two bed room homes.

Gardens weren’t a passion, they had been an important supply of meals to feed a desk of hungry children and adults. Candy, snacks, sodas, and so on. had been treats rserved for particular events and holidays. Kids often went barefoot as a result of footwear had been outdoors the family’s restricted finances.

Staples had been purchased on the firm retailer (or one of many few privately owned groceries) on credit score and paid off when the plantation paid wages.

Credit issued by banks was unknown. Neighborhoods (kumiai) would possibly pool just a few {dollars} from every household yearly and provide the sum to the very best secret bidder or by lottery. Those households that scraped up sufficient to open a small enterprise usually labored 12 hours a day, 7 days per week (or equal: 14 hours 6 days per week).

Neighbors helped with births and deaths.

Since nobody may even dream of proudly owning a automotive, transport was restricted. Children and adults walked or biked miles to highschool or work. Many sole proprietors made a residing delivering greens, meat and fish across the neighborhoods. (This distribution system remains to be current in rural France the place my brother and sister-in-law lived for a few years). Each vendor would arrive on a set day / time and housewives may collect to purchase from the proprietor’s jitney or truck. Children may eye the few candies longingly, and in the event that they had been fortunate, a few cents could be given to them to purchase a sweet.

Locally baked bread was delivered by boys. Milk was delivered by small native dairies.

Nostalgia is a robust power, however I do not suppose we will dismiss the final happiness of my Mom-in-law’s childhood as airbrushed impoverishment. The poverty appears apparent to us now, however on the time it was regular life. Everyone was in the identical normal socio-economic class. The plantation supervisor lived in a mansion with servants, however these with wealth had been few and much between. In different phrases, wealth and earnings inequality was excessive however the class construction was flat: the 99% had very comparable incomes and opportunities–both had been restricted.

Employment was secure, neighborhood ties and values had been sturdy with out anybody even noticing, and everybody had sufficient to eat (although not as a lot as they may have wished, in fact).

This safe plantation construction of labor and neighborhood was nonetheless firmly in place in 1969-1970 after I lived on the pineapple plantation of Lanai (and picked pineapple with my highschool classmates in the summertime), and so I used to be lucky to expertise it first-hand. My Lanai classmates communicate fondly and with a way of loss after they recall their youth. Life was safe and guarded, and with unionization of the workforce, the wages ample sufficient for frugal households to save lots of sufficient to ship their kids to school off-island.

I can personally attest that fond recollections of Nineteen Seventies plantation life are usually not distorted by nostalgia. These recollections are correct recollections of a much more safe, secure and nourishing place and time.

Compared to right this moment, the everyday Nineteen Thirties weight loss plan was regionally grown / raised and subsequently wealthy in micro-nutrients. Grains comparable to rice and flour got here from afar, however apart from canned fish and comparable items, meals was native and recent. Little if any was wasted.

People usually labored bodily demanding jobs that burned a variety of energy.

There are many individuals 90+ years of age in our neighborhood. My Mom-in-law’s brother–like lots of the males on this age bracket, he was a World War II veteran of the famed 442nd unit–died final yr at 96, regardless of smoking a half-pack of cigarettes day by day till the tip. A neighbor/good friend simply handed away at 99 (he was additionally a 442nd veteran). Our neighbor (cared for by her daughter and son-in-law, identical to us) simply turned 100. These individuals are usually wholesome and lively till the tip of their lives.

If we search for causal components of their superior age and customarily good well being, we can not ignore the high-quality, near-zero-processed meals diets of their youth and their sturdy foundations in neighborhood ties and values.

If we evaluate the monetary and materials wealth most take pleasure in right this moment with the restricted earnings and belongings of the pre-war period, we’d conclude they lived in excessive poverty and their lives should have been wretched as a consequence.

But if we evaluate well being and endurance, well-being, safety, normal attitudes, household and neighborhood ties and values, we’d conclude that it’s we who’re impoverished and it was their lives that had been wealthy in these necessities of human life.

The world has modified because the Nineteen Thirties, in fact. Materially, our wealth and choices of what to do with our lives are off the charts in comparison with the Nineteen Thirties. But if we take a look at well being, safety, well-being, neighborhood ties, social cohesion and civic advantage, our period appears insecure, disordered and deranging.

The irony is that those that have grown weary of our divisive, rage-inducing socio-economic system yearn for all that is been misplaced within the rise to materials wealth and alternatives to spend that wealth. Those who grasp the vacancy of spectacle and materials wealth and who’ve the means to take action are in search of the few enclaves that also have just a few shreds of neighborhood and social cohesion left.

These enclaves then get listed on “best small towns in America” or “best places in the world to retire” and the ensuing inflow of rich outsiders destroys the final remaining shreds of what everybody got here for.

I not too long ago harvested a few of our homegrown inexperienced tomatoes, and my Mom-in-law gave me a handwritten recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes from her assortment. The first ingredient was “two tablespoons of bacon drippings.” Um, okay, if we had been all working 10-hour days hauling 80-pound a great deal of sugar cane on our backs, no downside, however we’re a family of three seniors, 69, 70 and 92. I believe we’ll substitute two teaspoons of olive oil for the bacon drippings…

*  *  *

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