Quote of the Day: Homespun Wisdom of Bluegrass Legend Ralph Stanley

 

Ralph Stanley and his brother Carter were born in rural Virginia in the late 1920s. They lived through the Depression, but it didn’t affect them much since they lived on a high ridge, where their parents grew much of their own food, and their mother made their clothes. Ralph says in his memoir Man of Constant Sorrow:

The worst of it was over by the time I was old enough to remember much. Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, when I was five and already in school. So we had the Works Progress Administration and other government welfare programs coming in to help people out. Our family was never involved in that, either with the work or the welfare. We didn’t pay much attention to what they was doing or what they was all about. We’d see the WPA crews by the roadside, leaning on their shovels and smoking cigarettes. They always looked to be taking breaks and goofing off. We was more used to hard work, and we thought they was soft and lazy. We had our own name for them: the “We Piddle Around” boys.

I really loved the book and highly recommend it.

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There are 7 comments.

  1. James Lileks Contributor

    I once interviewed a very successful businessman who’d been a teen in the 30s. “You could make a lot of money during the Depression,” he said. “Nickles and dimes, but it added up.”

    • #1
    • April 15, 2019, at 9:46 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. OldPhil Coolidge

    RushBabe49: We had our own name for then: the “We Piddle Around” boys.

    My wife said her dad used to tell her they called the WPA “We poke along.”

    • #2
    • April 16, 2019, at 5:46 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Vectorman Thatcher

    My Grandfather had a photo development and a car waxing business before the depression. He ended up in the WPA as a laborer, then became a bookkeeper for them, which paid an extra $0.10 per hour. I never heard any stories about goofing off in the WPA, but I’m not surprised. The rest of his working life he owned a dry goods store.


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    • #3
    • April 16, 2019, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. OldPhil Coolidge

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    RushBabe49: We had our own name for then: the “We Piddle Around” boys.

    My wife said her dad used to tell her they called the WPA “We poke along.”

    Edit: My mom used to tell us her dad, my granddad, put food on the table during those years with his winnings from playing pool.

    • #4
    • April 16, 2019, at 9:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    One of my uncles worked for the WPA building the reptile house at the Toledo Zoo. He may have worked on some of the other buildings as well. The reptile house is cool because it was made entirely of salvaged materials from the Wabash railroad shops and locks from the Erie and Miami canal. All the WPA buildings are still in use at the zoo.

    I don’t know if my uncle stood around a lot, but he sure knew how to stand in line. When they started handing out government cheese in the ’70s or ’80s, my uncle, a man with a good union job at the Libbey Glass factory, used to stand in line for some free cheese.

    • #5
    • April 16, 2019, at 4:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. The Reticulator Member

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    RushBabe49: We had our own name for then: the “We Piddle Around” boys.

    My wife said her dad used to tell her they called the WPA “We poke along.”

    I never heard those two exact phrases, but I used to hear stuff like that from people who remembered those days. I was in my mid 20s before one of Mrs R’s relatives shocked me by saying something good about the New Deal. I had never heard anyone say anything good about New Deal programs before that. I knew there were people who thought highly of the New Deal; in fact, we were constantly propagandized about how wonderful it was. But I had never run into such a person in my own life.

    Despite such stories about leaning on shovels, I think the make-work programs worked well in a way that could never be duplicated now. I thought about this a lot when Barack Obama was getting elected. I figured there would be a stimulus program and it would be money poorly spent, but in the end we’d at least have the buildings and roads, just like we still have some of the results of the CCC programs. What I didn’t realize was how badly Obama would waste the money, partly because he was going to take heat from his party if he spent the money on masculine, infrastructure jobs.

    But back in the 30s people started with work habits that are hard to find any more. People’s work habits won’t get any better under government programs, but if they start with good habits (like in the 30s) the momentum will carry things along for a while before the Tragedy of the Commons kicks in. 

     

    • #6
    • April 16, 2019, at 10:47 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I was in my mid 20s before one of Mrs R’s relatives shocked me by saying something good about the New Deal.

    That isn’t correct. I was in my early 30s when that happened.

    • #7
    • April 17, 2019, at 7:46 AM PDT
    • Like