Saturday, July 16, 2011
This year represents the 30th anniversary of my family being torn apart by a combination of unemployment, poverty, and a conservative cutting of the social safety net. Nothing was ever the same after my parents were laid off in late 1979. They went through their savings. We had more than one Christmas where the presents were cans of food, and the stockings were stuffed with apples.
They did odd jobs. They approached more than one church asking for a loan to get through until the economy picked up and new jobs acquired. They were turned away, even from the Lutheran church for which my mother had done a two-year mission to New Guinea. Our family could no longer afford the rent on our tiny apartment, so we desperately moved to my grandpa's abandoned farmhouse. We planted three huge gardens and tried to live off the land. Still there were things that required money, so the family charged a Conoco gas card for supplies we could glean from a convenience mart.
Since my parents were conservative Christians, they eschewed help from the government. But eventually with all other options exhausted, my mom and dad signed up for a welfare program for two-parent families. It was our last hope. Nearly as quickly as our family started the program, conservatives led by Ronald Reagan had it cut so that they could give tax cuts to wealthy people. The last hope for the family was cut off, and by December 18, 1981, the State would find our family living in the farmhouse with a temperature of 32F in the house, scarce food, and conditions deemed insufficient to raise children.
Just before Christmas 1981, two of my brothers and I went to one foster home, and my youngest brother and sister went to another foster home. The money that was paid to the two foster families was 3x greater than the amount paid in the welfare program that could have kept our family together. They paid $1250 a month to the two families for the foster care, whereas the welfare check to my parents had been $400 a month.
Eventually, my parents were able to regain custody, but not before everyone involved was deeply traumatized. They went to the media with their story, and the Des Moines Register published an article in 1982 about a "Jobless Pair Fear Children Will Be Snatched Again."Losing their children led my parents to rapidly de-compensate into paranoid, mentally unwell people. My parents soon divorced and the family was broken and poverty-stricken from that time on. My brother would eventually commit suicide after years of depression and continuous reference to the foster care trauma.
Flash forward 30 years and again we are in a recession with unemployed people suffering. Conservatives all over the country are falling all over themselves to protect tax cuts for wealthy people who are living the good life. Meanwhile, there are families out there like my own, on the brink, ready to fall apart and the help they are counting on is being cut.
Today, a holier-than-thou conservative asked me why I wouldn't want to have a mutually respectful conservation with someone from their perspective. The answer begins with a trauma...
Monday, April 25, 2011
Have you ever filled out a depression questionnaire? It has questions like:
I have been feeling guilty
I have been feeling worthless
Friday, January 21, 2011
This excerpt represents one attempt to convince me in 2000:
I know you will “get smart” and that will be when you get a few big paychecks and begin to wonder why so much is taken out? It will then and only then register: You are the one in the old cliché about who pulls the wagon and who gets a free ride IN the wagon as the liberals need to survive. Keep as many voters in constant poverty so they’ll keep voting liberal Democrat to get what they are depending on rather than getting a job like what you are doing. There’s more and more people riding in the wagon and less to pull it. Like I always say, THE WORLD IS MADE UP OF WILLING WORKERS—SOME WILLING TO WORK AND OTHERS WILLING TO LET THEM. Follow?? If only you would listen to Rush Limbaugh!! You’ll have you eyes opened when you find out how much you are paying out for liberal Democrats to spend in order to get the votes and stay in power versus the mean spirited Republicans who are going to the elect the next President of the United States. Wanna bet?? It’s a good think we have all of these rich Republicans around as it leads to this: You wouldn’t be asking a man on welfare for a job, would you? If a man doesn't work, he shouldn't be fed at someone's expense!
He wasn't a particularly good listener in the face of information that conflicted with his views, but one could write him letters. So I did. I tried to explain that there were a series of facts that meant my politics were never going to change, and if he had any dignity, he would immediately reexamine his own. Here's why:
I grew up on welfare. Yes, that's right. My conservative grandpa's own daughter was a long-term welfare recipient, as were her six children by extension. Why? She was seriously mentally ill, and so was her husband, with schizophrenia. They would work at times when they could, but we were only eating at someone else's expense. Having grown up poor in America, I knew that every stereotype about welfare was wrong. More importantly, the impact of poverty on my childhood, and the fact that it led to a stay in foster care, had led me to professionally study poverty all the way to the doctoral level. I knew every correlate, every causal factor, and the lived experience only made the scholarly information alive and real.
Every right wing talking point harms the poor, and the suffering experienced by our nuclear family in poverty would take a book to express. The lies hurt people, and I am one of them. For example, earlier today the Heartland Institute was quoted as saying that the safety net in the U.S. is effective, at least for the poor. When I was 8 years old, I had an untreated, exceptionally painful ear infection that led to hearing loss. This was during the timeframe when my parents were working, but had no benefits and could not afford health care. As a poor person who went to our local free clinic for the care of a seriously infected ingrown toenail when I was 12, I can attest to how our country allows health care for the poor to be substandard or nonexistent. The doctor was cutting off my toenail, BUT he barely used any numbing agent. When I was screaming during the process, my mom asked the doctor to give me another shot for pain before he kept cutting it off. Instead, he said, "Look, you're getting free care. We can't afford to numb it like you were paying." Seriously.
It turns out that if you nurture people rather than try to choke the programs that serve them, they grow up to accomplish things like starting their own business. Now, my right wing grandpa started a business, and unfortunately it did not succeed. This means he would have been wholly incapable of providing for his daughter and her family PER his principles of family taking responsibility. He relied on the government to step up and take care of his daughter without ever demanding that he replace the welfare payments with his own income.
He ended up becoming elderly in a state of pennilessness. He was saved by a program he had lambasted for years--Social Security. Eventually, when he lived to 90 years old, he had to admit that the 25 years he spent collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits more than made up for the money he paid in. He never answered me when I asked him if he appreciated being fed during the unproductive years. I know that I appreciated being fed during my vulnerable years. And it turns out, I am pulling the wagon, voting Democrat, and realizing that in a civil society, we all take turns pulling and riding depending on our stage of life.
Friday, January 7, 2011
I was born in the county of Turku in Ikaalinen in a small village of Sarkkila in a small cottage of a fisherman by the name of Maki on March 27, 1887. This place was a beautiful place, on one side there was the Lake Kyrosjarvi, and on the other a somewhat smaller lake called Vahajarvi. All people admire this place, but my home was poor and there were a lot of children there. I was one of the oldest, the fourth, and there were six more after me. There was no money to send us to school and because of this I was never able to get any formal schooling. I have had to learn by myself enough that I have been able to get along in this world.
There is not much to tell about my life until I turned ten. But, from that time on I have had to work as much as I have been able to do. When the older ones turned 15 they left home to go to someone else’s hire and each time that they left, my work load was increased. I had to go out fishing with my father and that was hard work. I had to row the boat whatever the weather was like, whether it was windy or rainy; I had to work from early morning till late night. And then on top of it, I had to listen to the talk about how I would never be able to take care of myself when I would have to leave to the world where no one would feed me.
But, in spite of this, I helped my father until I turned 20. That’s when the brother next youngest to me went to learn how to become a baker and I had to keep on helping my father in his fishing business, although I would have known how to take care of it by myself. By the way, I received no wages, so that wouldn’t work either forever.
So, I decided to go to the world and I decided to go to America.
But, then the problem was that I had no money, so how was I going to be able to get there? I decided to borrow the money, and I was able to find men to co-sign my loan so even that wasn’t a problem any more.
Well, we did have a play that the Workers Society was putting on, so I decided to stay to see it through and then on that same night, after the program, I said my good-byes to my comrades and to my acquaintances and the next morning I was ready for the trip.
There are enough reasons to leave Finland. Almost all of the young people are going to foreign countries, because in Finland the middle class burgers are able to get everything for themselves with the help of the law, which they themselves have designed, and which takes away the bread from the mouths of the workers. If the workers were able to plan these laws with them, then they could see to it that they too could survive, not only the burgers with their fat bellies.
I will not stay here any longer, where a worker has no rights. If one really tries he still has to leave his rented farm and his place of employment and I curse this kind of order to be broken and a new one should be built under which even a worker has his rights and is not always under depression. This has to change…
I had everything ready for my trip, but I still joined the Workers’ Party in Ikaalinen, which was my home town—and I also acted as a member of their entertainment committee. I had a small part in a play and I had a lot of fun that night, until the social was over. And after that I said my “Good-byes” to my acquaintances and to one little bird that I sort of liked, even to her I bid farewell—for in the morning I was destined for America.
I left first towards Tampere, and from there I bought a ticket to Port Arthur, Canada (near Thunder Bay, Ontario). I had to go first to Hanko, where we waited for a couple of days. We looked at the city, although there’s not much to report, for it seemed to be a pretty poor place, at least as far as I’m concerned. Finally all of the examinations and passports and such were in order and we were ready to take off to the sea.
We left Hanko on April 17th, 1907, there were a lot of us leaving and for some it seemed hard to leave their land of birth. Many of us looked at the shores of Finland for the last time. I’m not even sure whether I’ll ever see it again, perhaps that was the last time. [Note: It was.] Then the ship started to move slowly, and at that point we all started to sing Internationale as a farewell to Finland, while others sang the national anthem and others waved their handkerchiefs and hats and the ones on the shore hollered: Hurrah, hurrah!
“So now we are on the sea,” thought those who had lived all their lives on the dry land. I didn’t join their discussions, I just walked around the ship and looked it over in every place…and it didn’t seem to be much of a boat. Then we got to Copenhagen; they didn’t let any of the travelers go ashore. The city seemed to look like all harbor cities do, and from here we started towards Hull, England. It was a bit stormy during this time, not terrible but enough that some became seasick, and those who were on the deck tried to dance and do something to make the time pass. Some played games and others spent their time with the girls…and so did I. That’s the best way to spend your time—spending time with the girls—especially when one is traveling; time goes fast.
Our next stop was in Hull, England and from there I don’t have much to tell you. We got there in the evening, first they gave me some food and then they took us to some place from which they had arranged some horses for us to travel across England to Liverpool. We spent some days there and then continued our trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Boston. This part of the journey was pretty terrible at times when the sea got to its full fury. All complain that the trips across the Atlantic are always stormy, although I did pretty well. Then we got to Boston and here we were examined at the customs. After that I started to travel on the American continent a ways to the Canadian side until I got to the place that was written on my ticket, namely to Port Arthur, and so I had spent my whole ticket.
I looked around this city for a few days, stayed around the Finns and asked about jobs, but since they didn’t seem to have any at that time of the year, I decided to continue my journey. I traveled to the borders of Ontario and Manitoba. I have no idea how many miles I traveled altogether, but I had to pay about ten dollars for this trip. So this boy from the Old World was whisked about.
There was no one there to meet me, like there was supposed to have been, and there was no place to live in except for a boxcar, and there were no houses there except for a little hut made out of boards. This boy from the Old World was in a real predicament, because he didn’t know how to speak one word that the ones living in that miserable hut could understand. Neither could I understand what they were saying to me. But I saw some food there and by now I was terribly hungry. So I spoke with my hands and pointed at the table. They started to understand when I showed them some money, and they gave me food.
But, what now? I was supposed to go to the lumbermen’s camp, but how was I going to find out which road to take or which train, when I couldn’t speak the language? But, I showed them the address that had been given to me, and one of them showed me the beginning of the path there and told me that it was about eight miles. But it turned out to be closer to 15. On top of everything, I got lost and wandered about for some five miles, so altogether I had to march some 20 miles that day. At the camp I met some old friends that I talked with and they arranged for some food for me, for one tends to get a bit hungry when one takes a walk along the forest paths.
So now I am in the Canadian wilderness, building a railroad and collecting those dollars and enjoying the quietness of wilderness forest, where the big pines are sighing and whispering hello. I am here, but I don’t like this kind of life that I’m now enjoying—because it seems so strange to be in a lonely place like this at my young age; this kind of young social fellow should be somewhere else. And after I had spent some time in the forest, I decided to go to the town, which was named Kenora, Ontario.
I spent some time there, but it didn’t look like I could find any work in there. The reason was that I couldn’t speak the American language, so I decided to take off again, this time to a city called Winnipeg. I looked around there for a while, but I didn’t stay long. I got a notion that maybe I’ll leave this place, because there are no Finns here, only some Blacks and mostly Poles. The place was just seething with them and some Swedes and maybe others, but no Finns, whose language I knew a little bit. I just couldn’t get over it, that here I was in one of the largest cities in Canada and there are no Finnish people there.
So, I left Winnipeg and went to a nearby village and then on to a Finnish farm. Even around the farms, they didn’t have any work. It would have been so nice to live there on the shore of a lake, because I had lived in that sort of place all of my childhood, but a worker can’t stop in his tracks and not work for a long time. I had to leave this place that had such beauties of nature and continue to search for a place where I could find work, so that I could make a living again.
So I left that place and returned to Winnipeg and got a job again working on the railroad. The place was called Vermillion Bay in Ontario. However, I didn’t go to the place that I had a ticket to, but to another boss, whose name was Kalle.
This boss treated the workers pretty well, although it seemed to be hard work in the beginning, so that I wondered whether I could keep up. But then I got a job that I liked and I stayed with it. After some time I wanted to visit the city, but not stay long—and I didn’t stay long—only long enough that I had a chance to see some of those places that a lumberjack should see. Anyone who has worked as a lumberjack knows that the bar is the first such place and then next would be an American dance hall and so on.
Then I returned to the same place and the same job that I had had and I worked for almost half a year. Then I quit my job and went to the city again for a few years and then I decided to go to the United States.
There were three of us boys and first we went to Winnipeg. We had to go there first for the customs, before we were able to continue. They were pretty careful at the customs, talked to us for a long time before they let us go and buy a ticket to the American side. We bought it to Duluth, Minnesota, and we made it there in 24 hours.
First off we found us a nice place to live in and then we went to look at the city. I got it into my head that now was the time to eat and drink and live wildly and so we did. We had fun for a couple of days until we started to run out of money, and we had to start looking for work again. Eemili, Lehto, and I had to pawn our clothes and then we went off into the woods looking for a job again. But how are we going to survive now when we had nothing left? Well, I sold my watch and that helped for a while again.
Then I went to a lumber camp again and it was such a place that you wouldn’t believe it if I tried to tell you. There was no food and no place to sleep. I had never seen such a place before. One could sleep on his knees on the dirt floor for a while, that sort of place…
We wanted a job that would be suitable for us, so we went back to that city where we had been earlier, to Duluth. I bought my things back from the pawn shop and lived for a while like a human being again. Then I left for Michigan to work for Holt Lumber Company at their camp. It turned out to be a similar place to the last one. I couldn’t stand it but a short time, and then I walked back to the city with another boy. It was about 20 miles to the closest station, but by the time we got there, the train had left and we had to wait for the next one.
That didn’t come until the next morning, and so we ended up spending the night at the so-called Brahn’s [?] Crossing. That was a pretty small place, but they had a hotel of sorts—so we went into the hotel and spent the night there. They served liquor in there, and we partook of it also, because after the camp food, that liquor that they called whiskey sure tasted good. So we were a bit drunk when we went to sleep and very tired, too, after that long walk. So I went to bed with this other guy, but horror of horrors, when I tried to raise my head off the pillow in the morning, I didn’t see that fellow any more, that I went to bed with in the evening. When I started to check whether he had touched anything, I realized that that fellow was a thief and had taken all of my money, although I didn’t have very much of it. At least it would have been enough to last me a while. I tried to find out where he had gone, and the owner of the hotel called on his telephone, but we couldn’t come up with any information about this damn scoundrel. Who would steal from his own work partner? I don’t hate anyone more than this kind of mean whelp.
It seemed very dreary to continue the trip without any money, nor friends, but I was of a courageous nature. It was that time of the year when one could find jobs, so I just continued, because I couldn’t just stay put in that place. I went to the station where I spotted a couple of similar looking fellows, who told me that they were waiting for a train and that they were planning to travel in it without any cost. We had to wait for a long time for it, but finally it came about midnight. We stood there ready to grab it and we were able to travel in it about a hundred miles, which would have taken a long time by foot.
Then we checked out some small towns, for example, they were villages, but I saw some new things even in those places. I saw that place called “The Hall” and I have never seen such a messy place in my life--no one took care of it.
And then we continued our journey again towards Duluth in a similar freight train. It was a free ride, but the wind was hard on the eyes, and by now we had gone for over two days without any food – just water. So the first order of business was to go and ask for food. These two friends of mine were Americans, so at least they were able to tell what had happened to us, and how we had gotten this far.
This place was called Lecsun (?) in Wisconsin, and we got something to eat in there and after our meal, we continued our trip to Duluth in a freight train again. It was very dangerous to try to catch the train, as it was traveling almost at full speed. Once we had troubles when the train stopped all of a sudden and the brakeman came to investigate where we were going and if we had any money. When we didn’t, he told us to get off the train, which we did. But as soon as the train started again, these boys grabbed onto the sides of the cars, and so the trip continued towards Lake Superior to Duluth, where I met a fellow that I had once worked with. Together we went to Melba, Wisconsin.
We didn’t really enjoy our stay there either. It was too hot to chop wood at this time of the year...
Now I decided to go see a friend of mine in Virginia, Minnesota. First I had to go to Duluth and from there to Virginia. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, three years at least, and I wanted to meet him now.
This was a sweet time in my life, when I got to Virginia in 1909, where I started to look for some work. And although it seemed hard in the beginning, I finally found some, and this was the first time that I was working in the city (in the United States). Time passed fast, because there were so many Finnish relatives here and it was so much nicer to be with my own countrymen. On the other hand, there were some problems there, mainly because there were so many people there and not enough work.
So the summer passed and the fall was coming and I had trouble finding work again, so I decided to go and spend the winter in the forest as a lumberjack. This camp wasn’t very far from Virginia City and it wasn’t a very big group, privately owned. The boss was Wiljam Maki and he hired the different kinds of workers, among them those who chopped wood. There were only three of us in that group, and first we had to worry about our own food. But after the snow came, we got some release time for cooking and then they brought a woman cook to the camp. This new cook of ours (Wilmi H?) was one of the cleanest women I had met. She believed in the ideas of the workers’ class; she was very self-confident and talkative, and so were all the rest of us. We belonged to the Workers Party, and the evening hours passed quickly, as we listened to all of the stories and once in a while we even burst into a short song, and we sang so that the woods echoed.
Well, then the cold weather was coming to an end and the weather was getting warmer and I started to miss the city again. Then together we thought that, since we have been in the forest for over four months, again we would have enough money to get by in the city for a while. So we loaded up the wagon even though there was no snow left and got a ride to the city. I sure thought that was lovely, and I suppose that the others thought so too. Here we were going to see the city folks and we were a raggedy bunch. That seemed strange to be wearing such rags, but how could we help it when the woods had torn all of our clothes to pieces? In the eyes of the city folks, we could see some criticism, but how do they know what each of us has done during the winter?
The Song of the Vagabond
Melody: Voi minua poikarukka (Oh, poor me…)
Oh the poor boy that I am
I am so miserable.
I don’t have a place that I can call home
Where I could lay down my head.
Ever since childhood
I have been forsaken
A burden has been laid upon my heart
And I have been marked like Cain.
As I wander about the world
All give me strange glances,
Why doesn’t this storm cover me all over
Instead of just wetting my cheek?
Others seem to walk in this world
Courageously, with their heads up high,
I walk all bent over
And all shy away from me.
I walk without a home
And ask for direction,
Tender sounds are buried in my bosom
And I listen to the wind.
I don’t have a place for a cottage
Where I could build me a house;
Sneers and laughter echo around me
When I dream of such things as those.
If I could build me a home
And find me a true friend,
I could halt this life of a tramp
And believe in my good fortune.
Some day the spring will arrive
When even a poor man has a home;
We can conquer our trials
And make this land again free.
That’s what they call me, a tramp – and that’s easy to say and often my kind of man can hear jeering words – but I don’t scorn that word, for I have lived that life and had those experiences, and I know how much suffering there is in this life. It is the truth that he surely suffers enough. He is not able to show off like the gentlemen do, because he lacks something as far as learning is concerned; the reason is that he can’t follow the sciences because he is almost always moving about, so that he didn’t have an opportunity for it.
But on the other hand, he does have an opportunity to get hold of scientific books, and from those he can gain much knowledge – and so many of us read these books and pamphlets…
And then there is still one more thing. They are able to see many kinds of life and they can hear all kinds of things...through this process many a young rascal has turned into a decent man for the schooling that the world gives is pretty hard to all blockheads and rascals.
Well, I took it easy again for a while, but not too long, before I started looking for work again. And I got some that lasted a short while. There were many such short-term jobs and there is not much to tell about them.
It was summertime again, and that must have brought strange thoughts to my mind, like that one should be able to have some better times than always working as a slave for someone else. Every day one can labor like a slave for money and listen forever to their orders and hateful words which one can hear in their service. Their only goal in life seems to be to wrench all away from the working man, and when this poor fellow has hardly anything else to contribute, they take away his strength to the very last drop of blood. They take everything from the worker’s purse into their own and that’s why I decided to work as little as possible for a while – just enough to survive.
After I had spent some days in that fashion, I noticed, however, to my horror that I wasn’t strong enough to work—those money grabbers had robbed me of my health! Them, and others like them, who put into their sacks everything that they can get their hands on. If a worker happens to be able to put something aside or save something—here they come and surely they get it all again if not in one way, then another. But, somehow I was able to muddle through all these difficulties again, and I regained my health, which surely made me feel good.
I had all kinds of experiences, though, and I had to suffer a lot. But like the old people say, that person knows this life who has experienced everything, and it seems to be that way. But I at least hope that all workers would try to become as aware as possible and wherever they have an opportunity, they should learn so that they would know a bit more than I know, so that they could start requiring back some of that that their masters have skinned off their backs.
So that’s what happened with the fun times that I had planned. As soon as I felt normal again, I had to go looking for these masters to give me some work, so they could skin me again. That’s all that a working man is worth, to work for a small percentage in their endeavors, and be happy with what they want to pay you.
Well, now I start my romance part of the story. This is the case with all of us, because we have been created such that it is not good for a man to live alone. In the year 1910, in late spring I started to look for someone who would be suitable for me and for my character like I’ve heard it said—in other words, I was looking for a legal wife. And soon I found the one whose nature I fell in love with and it went so far that I really started to like her nature even more and more, and it got to the point where I couldn’t spend my time anywhere else, but with her.
It is estimated that Oiva (pronounced like oy vey, but oy va)
wrote this set of memories just after meeting his bride in 1911 when he was 24 years old. They would have two children, a boy and a girl. The girl is my grandmother. Sadly, Mr. Maki died at the age of 32 during the Spanish Flu epidemic.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
The dreaded phone call came last night. After enduring a relatively short 9-month deployment to Afghanistan last time, our family is now prepping for the longer 13-month deployment of one of our own at the beginning of January. The little boy I rocked to sleep; the adventurous child who came to me crying with injuries including a seriously bleeding head wound/hospital visit; the teen I consoled when girls were more cruel than I knew they could be; the adolescent who never seemed old enough to drive, but I taught him manual shift anyway; the young man I proudly saw face responsibility as a husband and father by joining the Army to provide health insurance for his family.
Most parents will know immediately what I mean when I say that it would be easier to go oneself to the war front than send the child they raised. If I told the truth, there were few moments that he wasn't on my mind during the first deployment. My stomach constantly clenched; chronically talking myself down from worry. Every single report of American casualties means waiting to breathe until he manages to make contact, and reassure us that he is okay.
What breaks my heart the most is the impact on his 6-yr stepdaughter and 2 1/2 year old son. His stepdaughter has grown up with my brother as her father, and when he deploys, she acts out in school and her performance declines. Almost everyone knows that the first five years of life are crucial for child development, so his son missing his father's presence a second time during those critical years has an unknown and negative effect. It is a child's sacrifice seemingly largely unappreciated by the nation.
The casual nature of most Americans' everyday lives, oblivious to war and its consequences, often feels callous and unconcerned, even in the face of all those "Support the Troops" magnets. When people think about supporting the troops, I hope they remember their often forgotten family members.