Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Our heart is gone"

The Depression has wrought havoc with fortunes. Not only the speculative, paper kind have diminished, but the substantial kind have been depleted. Industry has lagged, buying power been curtailed, charity has failed to meet insistent needs, and even the time honored respect for educational expenditures has been thoroughly challenged. Every department of life has been effected and every stratum of society influenced more or less. Men live by bread, and bread is lacking because there is no work.

Men live by bread, but not by bread alone, and with all the seriousness of the economic situation the Depression has another more sinister aspect—the spiritual. Morale has been lowered, character shaken, and spirit broken.

“We have lost character” says Will Durant, “we squeal so.” Undoubtedly the ease and superfluity of life’s setting had made us “soft.” We needed discipline—and we got it. In many ways the hard times have helped us to face reality. But the fact remains that multitudes of people have lost their grip.

Early in the 1930s the associated charities made a ruling that no family could receive aid that owned an automobile or a radio. But it soon became apparent that the auto might be a means of livelihood in many cases so exceptions were made. As to the radio, the ruling stood until a wise school principal (one whom to certain knowledge knows more homes and hearts than any other individual in our town), until this man of sense impressed the charities that morale was a concern that they had overlooked and that an inexpensive radio was a great implement of spirit in many a home. Expensive they had been in the palmy days, but their intrinsic value had shrunk pitifully while their intangible value had heightened, they helped to keep up an atmosphere less gloomy.

Exceptional souls have found relief in having less; some families have been welded now that less entertaining and party-going takes place, but many and many a home has been broken in spirit with the passing of material things.

Here, for example, is a University professor who in boom times bought a $15,000 house, paying his lifetime savings of $6,500 and carrying the rest on mortgage. His salary has been twice cut. His property is not now worth the face of the mortgage. He questions the equity of such a system; is discouraged, views Bolshevism with sympathy and has lost his nerve generally.

Mrs. X of our acquaintance, whose brilliant son passed the bar examinations three years ago and has had no employment since—Mrs. X after her husband’s two-year invalidism and death with attendant hospital bills, finds her savings gone, her husband’s insurance money exhausted, a mortgage immanent, and taxes overdue. Where shall she turn at sixty? Her faith is shattered.

We are poor stuff, you say? Likely that applies to many, but not to all, and not to most. Something has happened inside, we are frightened of the future—our heart is gone. Nothing seems to rouse us; the nerve is cut.

--Reverend Jesse Halsey, circa1936

Organization Versus Freedom

These causes appear to me to have been of three kinds: Economic technique, political theory, and important individuals. I do not believe that anyone of these three can be ignored or wholly explained away as an effect of causes of other kinds.

Economic technique must be regarded as the most important cause of change in the Nineteenth Century, it cannot be regarded as the sole cause; in particular, it does not account for the division of mankind into nations. I do not believe that, if Bismark had died in infancy, the history of Europe in the past seventy years would have been at all closely similar to what it has been.

--Jesse Halsey


"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord"; the words came slowly but with firm enunciation, deep groanings and checked sobs were impounded by their cadence no doubt. The habit of years could not be broken. The family were at morning prayers though the oldest son had just died. My father, past seventy, read on, for fifty years this had been the daily routine, now it stood him in good stead, as it had before. Twenty years ago his young wife had died, now it was his eldest son; "He knoweth our frame, He remembreth . . ." He hesitated then stopped. It was a good terminus; the rest was so obvious just now.

--Jesse Halsey

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Guarding the Russian Dictator: Two of Lenin's Red Guards | Smolny at Petrograd
(excerpt from Jesse Halsey's Russia recollections)

It was late in January of nineteen eighteen. The night was clear and cold. The place was Petrograd. We found a sleigh and driver—and a horse. In those days most horses looked like skeletons. This driver had gone without his bread and given it to his horse and his horse was full of energy and spirit and we flew along.

And we went to Smolny. Five miles or more we flew. Such a night crackling clear and stars brilliantly alight. No street lights blurred the heavens. Orion and Betelgeuse I remember flashed in the eastern sky. For it was early evening.

Exhibit A

(excerpt from Jesse Halsey's Labrador recollections)

"One day I was under the hospital putting in steam pipes. Earl Gray, the Governor General of Canada, was the guest of the mission. After he had looked around and seen the medical and industrial work, meeting several doctors and others, he asked Dr. Grenfell where the minister was. Sir Wilfred saw my skin boots, he says, disappearing under the hospital. At any rate, he pulled me out and presented me as Exhibit A of a missionary to Lord Grey."

Irish Linen

Jesse Halsey
2726 Cleinview Av
Cincinnati, Ohio

Bowling along at fifty while the signs said forty, suddenly I sensed the staccato put-put of an accelerating motor-cycle coming up behind.

The Grand Boulevard that writhes its intricate way round successive suburbs to the north of The Metropolis was crowded with hustling morning traffic. Car after car with a New York license had passed me. When in Rome I am a Roman, but this time it hadn’t worked. For while all the cars perceptibly slowed down at the sound of that Cop’s barking exhaust, of all the dozen in sight he picked on me with the out-of state license.

He came along side; paralleled me for a mile (while I kept forty). Then he motioned me into a right hand intersection. I pulled up and he dismounted. Out of his pocket cam a little blue book. Then with some clumsiness he adjusted a carbon sheet and began to write.

“Ohio ais it? Yes thinks yes can get away with oinything cause ye have no driver’s license. I’ve got yer number, now what’s yer name?”

“Reverend,” I began meekly.

He looked up the word half written.

“Revener nothin’,” he exploded, “yer don’t bamboozle me. With yer red neckie and blue shirt . . . Revener.” He spat with vigor.

I produced an envelope. He spelled out the first word; REV-ER-END.

“Well, oil be domed . . . Now why wouldn’t youse guys dress like a priest oughter? If Oid a known I wouldn’t be givin’ ye a ticket now, maybe.”

Again he looked me over.

“Oid like to let ye go, bygor, but now Oi’ve wrote in me little book.” He fumbled with the carbon sheet. It wouldn’t erase—“REVER—”

“Oil have ter take yer name.”

I brought out the letter and he began laboriously to copy REVEREND J-O-H-N-B-A-Y-S-O-N. Then he spelled it over.

“John Bayson and Revener” he said slowly, half aloud, as he tilted back his trim white cap and scratched his head. “John Bayson, Oi used to know a fellow with that name in Soithampton.” He looked at me hard.

“Be gor, is youse the Jock Bayson whose father had a farm on the East Sea Road? Ye bald headed old cuss, ye can’t be. Excuse me me language, Revener.”

“Yes, I’m Jack Bayson alright, but who in the world are you?” I queried.

“Be gor, don’t yer know me?” He took off his stiff white cap with its resplendent traffic emblem, and stood straight. I hadn’t the dimmest recollection. This handsome military figure didn’t register in my memory.

“Youse oughter know me alright coming ter yer house fer milk fer me mother with narry a cent and yer old aunt a givin’ us all that first winter after we landed, and yer father keepin’ us in pertatoes when me father was sick, and all us kids. Yer ought ter know, me, Oi’m Michael Burke, be gor.”

It all came back, after forty years. Mike Burke! I was out of the car now. We were talking fast, while the traffic on the Grand Boulevard whizzed by unheeded. As boys we had played together. I was the older—and a great tease. But luckily he had forgotten that. Only the kindness of my people to his people was remembered. Over and over he told it. “Irish and Catholic,” he said, “green as grass” they found kindness and understanding in the New England village where fate had thrown them. And the Puritan Deacon, “be gor” had more than once loaned them a horse and buggy to drive the ten miles to the Harbor to Mass, “be gor.”

A raucous siren blatted into our conversation, coming nearer. ON went his cap and the officer came to quick attention, his official self again.

“That’s the patrol with a change of detail,” he said. And then as if in pain, he wailed, “Me gor, what shall Oi do?” I thought he had had a heart attack.

“Why, Mike, what’s the matter?” I gasped.

“Matter, me gor, ‘tis matter enough. ‘Tis this domed little book. Yer name’s in it and I can’t rub it out, be gor. It don’t rub out loike the old slates we used to use,” he smiled ruefully.

The patrol was coming close now, horn howling at intervals, while I volunteered, “Well never mind, Mike, I’ll pay the fine. Don’t worry.”

“Be domed if yer do,” says Mike. And with that he jerked open the hood of my car and smeared his cambric handkerchief with the grease and gas in the pan under the engine, struck a quick match, and as the patrol drew up, in answer to his whistle, was beating out a tiny but very smoky fire under my left running board with his white cap.

The sergeant came running from the patrol with a fire extinguisher (there was one unused one on Mike’s motor-cycle) and we both got spattered.

The officer Burke got down on his knees, reached under my car and came up swearing volubly.

“Me loittle book, be gory. This baldheaded, careless cuss, he gits his car ofire and Oi try to help him put it out and I drops me book, be gor.”

Mike handed the book to the sergeant. Sure enough some two pages were crisp and illegible, “clean gone,” in fact.

“This’ll cost you three days suspension, Burke,” snapped the sergeant.

The relief officer held the traffic while I pulled into the Grand Boulevard, headed toward home. The last I saw of my friend Burke, he was climbing in to the patrol wagon, one eye on me, unconsciously dusting his once-white cap on his chevroned sleeve.