The Social Contract made the world we wish to live in:
This was America, where my ancestors found freedom and opportunity. And that's how I was able to reach my childhood dream and become a doctor.
Republicans are reneging on the Social Contract with policies that increase the income and wealth of the ruling class over the working class. We need to check the greed and hoarding, the push for profit over people. Republicans are privatizing our schools, military, scientific research, Medicare, and Social Security. Privatizing public services sacrifices transparency and accountability, and as a result, people will suffer and die.
My Aunt Geraldine wrote this short story 15 years ago and it inspires me today as I fight for what is best in America.
"THE GOOD OLD DAYS"
I was born under the “Brooklyn Bridge” on July 20, 1911. The building, at 55 Fulton St., contained Otto’s Saloon, then our large cold water flat over it, and on top of us a Cuban cigar factory.
On a warm summer night, we sat out down by the door. Working men went in and out of the swinging doors. The strong smell of stale beer and the damp sea air wafted over us like a French perfume.
My Grandmother let me lick the foam from her glass of beer. It was delicious. Sometimes she would take my hand and we would take a walk down along the docks. The smell of wet timber and salt spray would mingle into another summer fragrance. I am instantly transported back to my childhood whenever I smell stale beer.
On our block, beside the saloon, there was an empty store. All it contained was a table and some wooden chairs. Over the table was a gas lamp. My father told me never to go there. At night, some men would gather. They would play cards with hats on and smoke. My father said they were the “Black Hand Gang” and bad. BAD. The French impressionist artist Cezanne painted some card players very like the “Black Hand Gang.”
I loved to draw and a small slate and white chalk were my most treasured possessions. One day while scribbling on the sidewalk, a passerby --- a kindly man, stopped. He took the chalk from me and said, “Little Girl, this is how you draw it.” I don’t remember what he corrected. I do remember I resented it. How could he spoil my drawing! So much for critics!
On Saturday night, the ritual was the weekly bath. A huge coal stove in the kitchen provided the necessary warmth. My mother filled the small round tin tub with warm water. I took off my grimy shirt and drawers and stepped into the tub. My mother knelt down and scrubbed me from head to toe with a scratchy rag and small soap. She took a pot, filled it with water and rinsed me off. Then I stepped out. She dried me off with a big towel. I felt clean and renewed.
We had no bathroom. A toilet was out in the hall. Under our beds were chamber pots. In the morning, Grandmother would take the pots, empty them and replace them. They were made of china and had handles.
Breakfast was hot oatmeal cooked for a long time with milk and sugar. Coffee was lightened and sweetened with condensed milk. Sometimes, on a Sunday, we had chorizo and fried eggs. We never had orange juice and grapefruit was unknown.
My Grandmother had a job upstairs in the cigar factory. She was a stripper. She sat with a large barrel in front of her. On top of this open barrel, tobacco leaves were draped in bundles. A tobacco leave is large, dark brown in color, and has a thick rope like stem down the middle. This step has to be removed --- stripped --- to make the leaf in the proper condition for the cigar maker.
Often, I would stand by her barrel and listen to the cigar makers (all Cuban) talk in Spanish of revolution and the politics of Cuba. It was not a calm discussion, but fraught with hot temper and excitement.
Papa was a seaman and his homecoming after a voyage was always a big event. He would bring home bananas, cocoanuts, and strange fruits. One time, he wanted to bring home a monkey. My mother refused to have it. She said the Mexican parrot was enough. This parrot was ill-tempered. She would bite anybody and then laugh out loud in hysterical joy. She could sing, dance and say any number of English phrases. One favorite was “Go to Hell” which she favored on a Sunday. My Father would take her out on his shoulder. Polly would strut around on him. She would gently nibble on his ear and say in a soft muttering tone, “Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly.”
“Papa,” I said one day, “aren’t you afraid Polly will bite you?” Papa would reply, in his deep musical voice, “It will be the last bite she will ever take!” The parrot knew this. We gave the parrot coffee, buns, bananas, and all kinds of food. The bird lived until she was nearly forty years. She died of loneliness.
Monday was wash day. I remember my Mother stirring with a stick into a wash boiler fill of whites boiling on the gas stove. I can hear the rub a dub sound of her scrubbing on a washboard. The clothes were hung on a line to dry. If it was Winter, they were brought in, like frozen cardboard figures and hung by the hot coal stove to finish drying. We had an icebox (no electricity). It was filled in the top, with a cake of ice bought from the ice man for $0.25. Underneath the ice box was a tin pan which caught the melted water from the ice. If you forgot to empty the pan, a small lake formed on the kitchen floor.
My Mother would go shopping downtown, to a department store. Before she left the house, she had to be properly dressed. This meant a dress, shoes with high heels, a hat and gloves. Her face was powdered and a bit of lipstick put on. A finishing touch was a splash of cologne called “Florida Water”. We were instructed to never let go of her dress and off we went on the trolley. Sometimes we went to the bargain basement of the store. There were tables piled with costume jewelry. She loved selecting a jeweled pin or a necklace. We would stand by her side. My sister and my eyes just coming to the edge of the counter, we would feast our sight on all those glittering baubles. She sometimes would try on leather gloves, carefully pressing the fingers of the gloves on her hand for a good fit. My sister and I soon tired of this and pleaded --- “Mama, let’s go home!”
It’s hard to imagine life without electricity. No lights, no washing machine, dryer, no toaster, radio, T.V., computer, heat, hot water, planes, autos, elec. Guitar, refrigerator, movies, hair dryer, microwave. How did we survive without all the above?
The truth is these are the good old days. We have electricity and it does all those things. We have something else. Social Security. My Grandmother had no check rolling in. She became a dependent old lady, on my Mother. My Father had no unemployment check rolling in when the depression hit him. Unemployment insurance helped us over a hard time. When my Father worked in the shipyard, the words “shape up” were dreaded. No work. No money --- savings became depleted. That does not happen today to such a degree.
I am ninety years of age. I have a small house, no mortgage. I keep it neat and clean. I have plenty of food. I share with my neighbor when she is sick. My clothing wants are easily satisfied. The necessities of life --- food, clothing and shelter have been met. “God Bless America”.
-G. Chatterton, Rintin St, Franklin Square