My grandparents lost out on their free rent deal at the flat on Salmon Street. And my mother, alone, could no longer afford to pay for the flat on Taylor Street. So my grandparents and my mother rented a crumbling old two- story house at Southeast 14th and Pine, and we all moved in together. The location was only two blocks from Washington High, where I was to go to school a year or two later.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) was a temporary godsend. This vast emergency program helped millions of desperate, hungry, out-of- work men and women feed their families and regain some sense of dignity and self-respect. It put people to work for the federal government on useful and in many cases triumphant projects, while it helped people avoid the humiliation of script or cash handouts. These were folks who wanted to work for the money they received. The WPA not only put several million blue collar workers back on a job, it sponsored and stimulated extraordinary achievement in the theater, music and the arts, as well as in federal and university research.
My tough old grandfather, Jim Dewey, unemployed and still doggedly refusing to sign up for cash relief, finally did agree to take a job with the WPA—as a ditch-digger.
On Sunday afternoons, for the fun of it, my mother and I would sometimes go “house hunting.” That was wishful recreation during the depression. We’d get in her old jalopy and go visit open houses. It seemed like everything was for sale or for rent. We’d walk in and walk all around and my mother would day-dream about where she would put this and where she would put that and where her room would be and where my room would be. I’d go out back and see what kind of trees there would be to climb. At some of the big houses with rolling land out behind, I’d day-dream about where I’d keep a horse, maybe two.
My mother wanted so much to have a home and garden of her own.