I spent some time looking for some c. 1880 images for the new Manasclerk Company logo. We’re going old school, because apparently I spent too much time with Trey Felty and frankly a steampunked logo attracts the right type of clients (i.e., those that pay). I spent some time trawling the US Library of Congress’s digital collections. They’re amazing and well worth the time if you have it. The New York Public Library also has some great stuff.
But a big part of the collection comes from federally sponsored artists and photographers during the Great Depression. Like the featured image at the top of this post, Dorothy Lange’s 1936 photo of a migrant agricultural worker’s family in Nipomo, California.
Then there are shots that remind us that some people faced treatment in my country that was just plain wrong. Even worse than those Okies who got to Cal-eye-forn-y-ah and got turned back or worse, beaten. Some folks had the beating threat all the time, and it got worse when times got bad.
Sign in diner. c. 1935
I talk a lot about high mode individuals being underemployed. One of my grandfathers was an avid reader, who read Bacon and Darwin and Plato, but worked as a butcher his entire life. Towards the end he reported to much less wise and less experienced and younger men who saw him as an obstruction to get rid of. He never graduated from high school, but his son got a masters degree and held four patents, and his daughter taught at university and married a university president.
Sometimes you do what you have to do, and hope you give your kids a chance.
I’ve also been reading Born Losers, which describes the responses to panics back in the 19th century here. Much of what is said about the reasons for financial collapses of that century sounds like a more flowery version of what is written in newspapers and business rags today. We’re not going to learn and all of this is going to happen again. Because that’s the way it is.
All this got me thinking about what I’m thankful for, in these hard times that are starting in on us. I’ve gone through the poverty-income years before, so it perhaps is easier for me because the situation isn’t new. I didn’t see some massive paper loss.
But you can’t be thankful for avoiding some pain. “There but for the grace of God goes Dwight L. Moody!” may have worked great for the American evangelist, but it’s tougher for us normal folks. We need to be thankful for positives, for something that we have.
It even is linked to better health. Just forcing yourself to be thankful (in whatever way one is thankful — one doesn’t need a deity) for ten things every night changes you. Don’t know why.
For me it often is about something beautiful. The pattern created by sneakers hung over power lines. A glimpse of a fox as it crossed a snow covered field as I drove by. The page of book where the typographer knew his craft. So it can be inane things. It doesn’t have to be something important to anyone else.
Take some time. Find something that you rejoiced in experiencing, participating in, or having. I grew up singing a hymn written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. that cried “Count your blessings, name them one by one”:
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
The Apostle Paul of course had already chimed in with his two cents, but it wasn’t nearly as catchy.
The Christian thought may be something you’re not into, but the idea is solid for everyone. Even Cicero said:
A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.
What are you thankful for today?
[LC-USZ62-58355] “Nipomo, Calif. March 1936. Migrant agricultural worker’s family.” By Dorothy Lange. Via Library of Congress. FSA photo.
A little historical note about Oatman: he reportedly wrote over 3,000 hymns before he died in 1926, while keeping a day job “having charge of the [life insurance] business of one of the great companies in Mt. Holly, N.J.” and having a family, according to a contemporary book of biographical sketches.