Bring Back “The Homecoming”

I’m making a pitch for resurrecting an older TV Christmas special, “The Homecoming.”  Do you remember it?  This is the special that became the basis for the series, “The Waltons.”

The great thing about the special was, it was darker, funnier and less heartwarming than the series became.  Viewers really saw the widespread poverty of the Depression and the desperation that drove their daddy to work many long miles away in order to bring home food and presents for that large family.

The mother was played by Patricia Neal.  She was harsh and loving, fearful and strong, less pretty, more rawboned and real than Michael Learned, who played the role in the series.

As these dark days of winter roll in and aftermath of the Great Recession refuses to go away, I find myself thinking about how my parents and grandparents endured poverty and hard, manual labor during the Great Depression, and how their lives did not change for the better until World War II brought factory work and higher-paying jobs.  I think how hard they worked so my sisters, brother and I could go to college and have more comfortable lives.

Things may not have always worked out as they hoped.  But I never had to hoe tobacco or eat biscuits and sawmill gravy for dinner because I couldn’t afford meat.  “The Homecoming” is a gem in its own right, but I love it all the more because it takes the viewer inside a world my parents knew–a world I hope I will never have to know personally.  Good night, John Boy!

Here’s a link to part of the special on YouTube:



Recessionista: Links and Recommendations

One of my dreams as a child was to be able to spend without worrying.  My parents grew up during the Great Depression, never went to college, and worked hard all their lives to support us kids and give us a better chance.  A big part of this was scrimping, saving and stretching as a way of life.  Another factor was debt, mortgaging the farm to pay for the current year’s crop.

I paid my own way through college and graduate school, and worked my way up to a comfortable life.  I’ve never been extravagant (although there are those who would argue with that statement), but I’ve enjoyed being able to eat out at will, buy what I wanted within reason, and pay off the bills every month.

Well, the Great Recession has put an end to all that.  I don’t mean to say this is as bad as Great Depression–there is no comparison.  But current days are a sad change from the good times we have all enjoyed in the past.  I have found a number of ways to keep some of the pleasures of affluence without spending much (or, in some cases, any) money.  Please share your recommendations!

  1. The public library.  My county has a wonderful library system, with books, DVDs, and music CDs, all for free.  My local library also has free lectures, musical performances of surprising quality, and other events.
  2. Through my library, access to Freegal, which lets you download music for free  Your library pays for a certain amount of downloads up front for their cardholders, and they are available on a first-come-first-serve basis until the library quota is used up.
  3. This is a great way to get rid of books you don’t want any more and get books you do want to read.  All it costs you is the postage to send a book to the requestor.  Somehow I ended up with more books than I had originally (hmmm), but as a reading junkie, it helps feed my need.  And you can set up a wish list with automatic ordering!
  4. Eat. Drink. Save money (their tagline).  Users can buy coupons good for $25 or $50 at a subscribing restaurant for as little as $2.  Restrictions do apply.
  5. Tracking down free concerts and performances of other kinds through my local and organizations like the public library, Jazz Forum Arts (metro New York area), and the local newspapers.

I long to go back to my old, somewhat profligate ways.  Maybe that will happen soon.  But I intend to keep some of my newer, more frugal habits!

Family History: What’s Buried

When I was working for a nonprofit organization in New York City our diversity task
force brought in a consultant to do sensitivity exercises.  The consultant had us all stand in a line.  First she called out statements that, if they applied to you, you were to take a step back:  Person of color, ancestors came through Ellis Island, parents didn’t go to college, parents spoke a language other than English.  Then she made statements that  required you to step forward.  Most of these I don’t remember; one had to do with having a graduate degree.  I just remember that the Chief Operating Officer and I ended up by the window, while most of the rest were huddled in the back of the room.  I had never viewed  myself as privileged before.

I come from a very large family which none of us knew much about until recently.  Mother and Daddy both were born and raised in a small farming community in Montgomery County, Tennessee. Daddy was a Jones, Mother was a Bowers.  My cousins on the Jones side liked to joke that it was a wonder we weren’t all idiots, since there were Joneses and Bowerses on both sides of our family trees.   My parents went through the Great Depression, and told me that sometimes they had nothing but biscuits and sawmill gravy to eat.  Neither graduated from high school.

Mostly my relatives were tenant farmers or blue-collar workers.  No one had gone to college before my generation.  To me it was a point of pride that we had apparently been in Montgomery County forever without making much of a mark on it.  We didn’t have any
glorious Civil War history to recount and apparently were too poor to own slaves.

I thought of myself as an educated, liberal person over the years, having no heritage of slavery, lynching or Jim Crow atrocities to live down.  I also thought I came from a humble
background and, along with my sisters and brother, had managed to pull myself
up into the middle class.  Meanwhile, my cousins Bobby Bowers and Greg Jones had been digging into the genealogy of the Bowers family.  In December 2006 they  printed “The Descendants of Nathaniel Bowers, Rev., and Hannah Smith.”  My sister Sherrie sent me a copy, and I began picking my way through 12 generations of Bowerses.

Turns out my parents were distant enough as cousins to escape any incest jokes.  However, most of my other assumptions were not particularly true.  There had been  land, and perhaps education.  Nathaniel Bowers was a preacher and was born in Connecticut (date unknown).  His wife was born in 1683.  His grandson James fought in the Revolutionary War (with the rank of Capt.) and received a pension, moving to  Montgomery County from New Jersey around 1820.  James owned 400 acres of land—a war land grant?

During the Civil War, Corporal John Claiborne Bowers was sent home with malaria the
day before the surrender of Fort Donelson to the Union army, so he avoided
going to prison camp with the rest of the Confederate soldiers.  Yet he had been there, so he may have fought.  Family lore said he was paid to fight by a more affluent neighbor, which was common at the time. His widow received a Confederate Army pension.

The genealogy book noted births, deaths, pensions, deeds, census data, and even a
newspaper account of an apparent multiple murder including the husband of one
of the Bowerses in 1878.  The question of slave ownership was never raised.  Nothing
explained how the land had gone away.

I emailed Cousin Bobby about it, and he said he didn’t look into slave ownership.  But what he did find out changed my view of our family history forever. Education, property, Revolutionary and Civil War veterans—not what I thought I knew.  And still a lot of
buried history.

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