Reality Check

On that final night, my mother and Phoebe said good­bye to a few favorite customers and walked out the door— with a bundle of lively memories, no serious regrets and a heavy sigh of relief.


By 1935-36, even with modest recovery at the top levels, most Americans had to accept the cold, comfortless fact that prosperity wasn’t “just around the corner.” Five, six years after the panic of 1929, the relentless Depression still gripped much of the nation in an economic strangle-hold, despite the innovative programs of FDR’s New Deal.

For millions of Americans on the thin edge of poverty, the crisis had become semi-permanent.

Jim Dewey, into his sixties and still scrabbling for work, stayed tough and stubborn and independent as ever. No more WPA for him. Ignoring a chronic backache and still flexing the whipcord muscles of a stonemason, he handled any and every job he could get. Roofer, watchman, ditch digger, dock worker, janitor, hod carrier, fruit picker—he took ’em all on. He held fast to his lifelong respect for hard work.

I remember one ten-day cherry picking job at a sprawling Willamette Valley orchard near Estacada, Oregon. Both my grandfather and grandmother signed on for this one—and I went along. We slept in an Army surplus tent setup in a work camp on the banks of the roaring Clackamas River. There must have been 15 or 20 families in camp, along with scores of out-of-work, migrant “fruit tramps,” gathered for what turned out to be a brief, peak-of-the-season harvest. I scrambled up the ladders and worked alongside my grandparents.

I was a slow picker. We were paid something like two maybe three cents a pound. Afterwards, they claimed that I ate more than I picked. I think they exaggerated.


My mother and her family were cradle Catholics. However, when they moved westward, they drifted away from the Church. I was not raised a Catholic.

Instead, my mother enrolled me in Sunday School at the nearby Hinson Memorial Baptist Church when I was about nine years old. The church was a squarish building of dark-gray stone. It looked like a small fortress.

For several years, I sat there squirming on Sunday mornings, singing the somber, rock-ribbed hymns and listening to parabolic stories from out of theKing James Bible. Prior to the start of the full 11 a.m. chinch service, I would often slip out a side door.

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