After my Saturday Walk-About to my parents’, I trotted back chock full of stories: “Aunt Blanche” stories… “Jimmy Prentice” stories… stories, stories, stories. I think my parents may be jealous of the “Ruby” stories getting all the blog-time around here, because I get one memory after another now, without even asking. I was all set to tell my mother’s “Aunt Blanche & the Peddler” story, or if not that one, her Jimmy Prentice & the Radio” story, or even my dad’s “Let Me Tell You About the Time I Fought the Bear and Still Have the Scar to Prove It” story, but Ruby blew them all away because of tapioca.
I will tell those others, but Ruby sure does seem to take precedence around here (seniority, maybe…?), so I’ll have to tell hers first, or, I guess let her tell it. Her “voice” is easy to fall into…
Did you have supper with your folks, tonight? You’d think you’d be a little fatter by now, with all the big meals you’re getting there on the weekends. But you walked there and back, didn’t you? That’s why you’re so skinny, you know; it’s ‘cuz you walk too much. Did you at least have dessert? What’d you have for dessert?
Me: We had tapioca.
Tapioca! Well! Don’t talk to me about tapioca! I ate tapioca as a kid, ’til it was comin’ out my ears!
Me: My Dad calls it “Fish Eyes”.
(Laughing) Well, it does kind of stare up at you, don’t it? ‘Course, now it’s all that instant stuff. The stuff *I* had to choke back had eyes as big as peas, it did.
You know I grew up in Northland, right? During the Depression? My Dad was the only man drawing a paycheck there then, except for the one hired hand he had, and then the extras he hired on in the summer – that’s when most of the maintenance on the track was done. We picked berries up the track all summer, and if we were lucky, there’d be a crew nearby and we could get a lift, berries and all, back home on a hand-car.
Well, my Dad was the Section Foreman. He had the 8 miles from Bellevue Bridge to Glendale, then it went on to Searchmont. We had the Searchmont Section Foreman to supper every now and then; he and my Dad were good friends.
Everybody else was on “relief”, but Dad got $2.35 an hour from the railroad. We did alright, on account of that, and we had the farm. My mother planted a huge vegetable garden every year. We had chickens and a couple of cows, and every spring, my Dad would buy two little pigs to raise for the summer. He’d slaughter them in the fall and we’d have bacon all winter.
Back then, being on relief was nothing like welfare is now. No, they had to work for it. The men had to work on building the road into Northland. Up ’til that road was done, the only way in or out was on the train. And at the end of the week, the government didn’t hand those men a paycheck, either. No, they got paid with a box of groceries.
Every week, all these groceries would come in on the train, and my mother would have to sort through them on the kitchen table, and divide them up into boxes for all the families to pick up. They didn’t get anything too fancy, either; canned goods, mostly, and stuff that’d “keep”. They’d get dried goods, like beans. And tapioca. There was always tapioca.
Now, my mother felt bad for anybody worse off than us, and really, we weren’t doing that much better, when I think about it. But some of these folks she felt real sorry for, and so when they wanted something a little different or needed something extra, they’d come to her and ask if they could trade for a pound of butter, or some eggs, or lard. And they always brought beans and tapioca to trade.
My mother needed more dried beans or tapioca like a hole in the head, but she never said no. She’d just put the beans and the tapioca in the pantry and hand over what they was needing. She had a little money to buy groceries at the store, but I don’t remember her ever buying beans or tapioca, not even once.
I swear, by the end of a year, there’d be a hundred pound sack of dried beans in that pantry, and we ate tapioca every damned night after supper.
Well! (Laughing) Don’t talk to me about tapioca!
Random Song for the Day: “The Man Who Sold the World” – Nirvana