So you can read my books

Friday, January 17, 2014

LETTERS FROM JOHN_What Is Your Time Called?

Pacific Grove
September, 1931

Dear Roland -

     So this time that I am trying hard to survive is called the Great Depression in 2014?  What is your Time called?

     I can agree with the Depression part of the name.  Yet, it is not so great at all. 

     I remember ’29 very well. We had it made (I didn’t but most people did). 

     At lunch hour, store clerks and stenographers munched sandwiches while they watched the stock boards and calculated their pyramiding fortunes. Their eyes had the look you see around the roulette table.

     I saw it sharply because I was on the outside, writing books no one would buy. I didn’t have even the margin to start my fortune. I saw the wild spending, the champagne and caviar through windows.

     Then the bottom dropped out, and I could see that clearly too because I had been practicing for these grim times for a long while.

     When the market fell, the factories, mines, and steelworks closed and then no one could buy anything, not even food. People walked about looking as if they’d been slugged.

This "Depression" is no financial shock to me. I didn’t have any money to lose, but in common with millions I do dislike hunger and cold.

     I have two assets.

     My father owns a tiny three-room cottage here in Pacific Grove, California, and he lets me live here without rent. That is the first safety.

     Pacific Grove is on the sea. That is the second. People in inland cities or in the closed and shuttered industrial cemeteries have greater problems than I.

     Given the sea a man must be very stupid to starve.

     That great reservoir of food is always available. I take a large part of my protein food from the ocean. Firewood to keep warm floats on the beach daily, needing only handsaw and ax.

     A small garden of black soil came with the cottage. In northern California you can raise vegetables of some kind all year long.

     I may have given you the wrong impression when I wrote that Carol and I are marooned. 

     I must drop the “I” for “we” now, for there is a fairly large group of us poor kids, all living alike. We pool our troubles, our money when we have some, our inventiveness, and our pleasures.

     It is a warm and friendly time.

     Only illness frightens us. You have to have money to be sick. And dentistry is out of the question, with the result that my teeth have gone badly to pieces. Without dough you can’t have a tooth filled. We rarely have a job.

     There just aren’t any jobs.

     Keeping clean is a problem because soap costs money. We wash our laundry with a soap made of pork fat, wood ashes and salt. It works, but it takes a lot of sunning to get the smell out of the sheets.

     Anything at all is an excuse for a party:

     All holidays, birthdays call for celebration. When we feel the need to celebrate, and the calendar is blank, we simply proclaim a Jacks-Are-Wild Day. 

     And a gallon of bad wine is only 39 cents.

     It isn’t all fun and parties.

     You remember Tillie? 

     When she got sick, the veterinary said Tillie could be cured, but it would cost twenty-five dollars. We just couldn’t raise it, and Tillie took about two weeks to die.

     If people sitting up with her and holding her head could have saved her, she would have got well. Things like that make us feel angry and helpless.

     But mostly we make the best of what we have because despondency, not prosperity, is just around the corner. We are more afraid of that than anything. That’s why we play so hard.

     These grim times seem to stretch out forever when you look into the future.  There seems no hope.  Are things brighter in 2014?  What do you call your Time and why?

     What do you think those that come after you will call it?

     I miss Tillie.
     Sometimes my dream of becoming a published writer seems silly compared to the anguish I see around me.  Do you ever feel that way?



     What would you label our Time for John?

What do you think those that come after us
will call our era?
What would you say are our greatest fears in today's world?
What words of comfort
would you give John
in his grief
and feelings of silliness
of wanting to be a writer in his harsh times?



  1. To John: sometimes the hard times are the best times. They don't seem that way when you live through them, but when you have less, sometimes you appreciate it more.

    I don't know what they will call us in the future, probably the digital age, or something that will hide the infrastructure failures and economic disasters of big business in the last 20+ years.

    A place on the beach does sound nice. I could write in a place like that. . .

  2. Oh John:

    I don't know what they will call this age. It is many things to many people. Stupidity, violence and greed are part of it. But not all. By no means all.
    The little things, friendship, love of a dog, laughter and their like are not small. Or shouldn't be. They are more powerful than many of the things over which we don't have control. And more valuable too.
    And, please, keep on being true to yourself. Not only is it right for you, the world needs dreamers. In your time and in ours.

  3. D.G.:
    John came to the same conclusion you have -- he often likened America to a rich child with too many Christmas presents and not appreciating any one of them for the surplus.

    I like the way you phrase it: when you have less, you appreciate that little more.

    Yes, a place on the beach sounds like an ideal place in which to write -- if you and those you love stay healthy!

    I think you are right: the historians' name for our age will whitewash the faultlines of our cultural psyche.

    Elepahant's Child:
    I believe you are correct: the little treasures of any age seem to be lost in the glare of colossal mistakes or towering egos.

    Your little things: friendship, love of a dog and its love back for you, laughter are not the small things they might appear but the backbone of any age.

    I will pass on your words to John, and his later writings prove he listened to them. :-)