My childhood friend Billy grew up in a three-room house with no place to wash his face except a basin, only a two-holer privy out back to do his business, no water except a 55-gallon barrel filled weekly for 25 cents from a man’s mule-drawn wagon tank.
Which might have been bearable except that Billy’s family included mother, father, Billy and his nine brothers and sisters. This happened 75 years ago, far back in Billy’s and my own childhood.
The one tiny bedroom had two double beds, no others in the house. Most of the kids slept on the floor, worn slick by the passage of many feet. When a knot fell out of a plank, over the hole they nailed a tin can lid, which those busy feet slowly depressed precisely to the outline of the fallen knot.
They got no medical care or, obviously, help with contraception. After all those births his mother’s belly was permanently distended as if number 11 was on the way. One problem was Billy’s dad, a drinker who often didn’t work.
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Too bad for today’s political comedians that Billy and his family are not still around. Because our radical legislators and governors would have a grand time whipping them with ridicule.
I say “radical” because these powerful tax-cutters-for-the- rich are not Republicans. They have little in common with true Republicans like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower or the first George Bush.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the “Hope Act,” which prohibits poor Kansans from spending their pittance of public aid on cruise ships, gambling, tattoos, massages, body piercings, fortune tellers, dog or horse races, lingerie, bail bonds or adult entertainment “in which performers disrobe.”
Fox News ridicules the poor, claiming they get “Obamaphones,” that never existed, along with food stamps which, Fox asserts, should be dispensed only with a stigma attached.
Radical Missouri legislators have debated whether to prohibit the use of food stamps for lobster. Of course, we can agree that poor folks on cruise ships getting massages and spa treatments plus “adult entertainment” should not order lobster. But that’s not why radicals put those words in the legislation. They were jeering at the poor.
These radicals are mean in two senses of that word: both stingy and cruel. While killing the expansion of Medicaid to 150,000 poor Kansans, Gov. Brownback and his aide, Mellika Willoughby, spoke bitterly of “able-bodied” persons who “choose not to work.” Half of the would-be beneficiaries do work and two-thirds live in homes where someone works.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens plans to end state-funded care for more than 20,000 disabled Missourians. Radical Florida legislators want to drug test every person desperate enough to ask for help.
Hey! We could have used that in 2008 on the pie-eyed Wall Street entrepreneurs who smashed Americans with their Great Recession. It’s not too late. Let’s line up stock traders at toilet urinals with paper cups to fill. But no, we will never shame the rich as we shame the poor, as we shamed black people through slavery and for a century after the Civil War. My pal Billy and I took part in all that, sitting proudly up front on the city bus while black folks sat on the bench in back.
Speaking of Billy, we had grand times together. In a clear stream we caught a long stringer of 10 and 12-pound carp — several days of good eating (lobster for the poor) in his house and mine. Aiming at a fleeing cottontail with my grandad’s old 16-gauge double, I shot Billy instead.
“Owwww!” his cry sang out from yonder woods. Just a single No. 6 pellet bloodied one ear. And he never shamed me for it. During a long working life, Billy hustled this job and that, shingled houses, bought a boat and guided sportsmen on fishing trips. His grievous battle wounds during the Korean war made him a winner, because he got Veterans Administration disability and the VA’s excellent medical care.
By now you may think I’m arguing for the radical’s spiel that poor people should get no help, because Billy “pulled himself up by his bootstraps.” But three of his brothers, all younger, have already died. One went through his whole short life with eyes grotesquely crossed when a simple operation could have straightened them.
But that’s OK, the radicals signal us through the laws they write. Because every member of Billy’s family of 12 deserved to live miserable lives, given the father they chose to lead them. And they are a pious lot, these radicals, occasionally murmuring to themselves: “What would Jesus do?”
And then expertly recoiling from the answer, because they’ve had so much practice.
Reach Charles Hammer at Hammerc12@gmail.com