(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


[Letter 4]

November 12.

Dear Cousin “Sawbones”:

     Today, let us consider economics.
     To give both of us a good perspective on what went on in Howell (economically) before we were born, I want to borrow from one of my mother’s letters to Aunt Madge Muschany to show that good old coin of the realm was needed in those days, too.
     In a letter dated June 24, 1913, Mom wrote, “Since I wrote you last, we had an excellent rain on Sunday and Monday, and it looks like more today. It came in due time to save the crops and gardens. Morris had been hauling water for stock. Saw Mr. Cunningham today, and he consented to Morris putting a pump in that drilled well providing he paid for it. Morris had to put out $21. They put the pump in Saturday and it started to rain, so we have all kinds of good water. Thank God. Morris is through cutting wheat and, though it is good wheat, there isn’t much in it because the expense is so great. His twine alone cost $10.50, but I’m thankful we have what we have . . . .”
     And again to show you how seriously farmers took their work, Mom wrote, ‘‘Bud Montgomery is in a serious condition with a nervous breakdown. He worried so much about the dry weather, he thought they were going to starve to death. The neighbors have been staying with her as he may commit suicide.”
     I thought we were the only generation to have tension and pressures. My insurance man worries about his backswing and I worry about balding and the rising costs of travel. Never about my food.
     Isn’t that something, Cuz, the one worrier in the neighborhood is so unusual as to make him part of a communique? Everyone we know is taking some kind of calmative medicine or other. See what I meant in my first letter, when I said that a shrink would have starved in a week at Howell, remember?
     Further in the letter, Mom again unburdens herself to Aunt Madge. She writes, “Morris has been feeding wheat and green corn to his hogs. It seems so discouraging when a person works so hard and raises nothing. Morris had a very good wheat crop, 471 bushel, but when he paid his debts and expenses he had nothing left. He got 73 cents a bushel but if he could have saved it a little longer he would have got $1.00. With no money you can’t gamble.”
     I guess if Dad had what the farmer of today has, he probably would not have been a mortician . . . wonder what I’d be doing? Don’t answer that.
     Also in this letter, Mom dishes out a little secret feeling. “Mr. Hardaway ate dinner here today. I hope they don’t send him back here as no one likes the sermons he preaches.”
     Another fragment of the letter makes me suddenly very labor conscious . . . “Morris made $2.50 going with Dr. Belding to hold an inquest over two dead bodies.” How about them there wages. Sound like the wages of sin, eh?
     I have reproduced two pages from the Muschany Bros. store ledger dated 1933. This was the way the brothers kept books and I call your attention to the prices such as 9 gallons gas @ 13¢ per gallon; eggs @ 26¢ per dozen; one chicken (don’t know how many pounds) @ 35¢; three loaves bread @ 6¢ per loaf. Those were the years when money could not be found. The depression had taken its toll and the recovery was very slow. If today’s prices indicate anything, the saying is so true, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”

All the best,
[signed: Don K.]