Rants & Essays
By Cindy B. Harding
Work is a part of living - my grandparents understood that.
They lived and worked on a central Pennsylvania farm that has been in my family
for 150 years. Hess Farm, at that time, was self-sufficient. They raised beef
cattle for meat, chickens for eggs and hogs for pork and lard. Dairy cows were
kept for milk and the cream from which Grandma made butter and cheese. What
little yard they had became a garden.
The Depression, therefore, didn't make a dramatic change in
their lives. But it did bring an unending flow of men out of work, drifting
from job to job, to the farm. The first man to show up on the kitchen porch was
ragged-looking, but courteous. He doffed his hat and quietly explained that he
hadn't eaten in a while. Grandpa stood watching him a bit, then said, "There's
a pile of firewood stacked against the fence behind the barn. I've been needing
to get it moved to the other side of the fence. You have just enough time to
finish the job before lunch." With that, he stuck out his callused hand to the
Grandma said a surprising thing happened. The drifter got a
shine in his eyes and, behind the scruff of his beard, he smiled. He hurried to
the barn in a near trot. She set another place at the table and baked an apple
pie. During lunch, the stranger didn't say much, but when he left, his
shoulders had straightened. "Nothing ruins a man like losing his self-respect,"
Grandpa later told me.
Soon after, another man showed up asking for a meal. This
one was dressed in a suit and carried a small, battered suitcase. Grandpa,
who'd been fixing the hay mower in the toolshed, came out wiping his hands when
he heard voices. He looked at the man and then offered a handshake. "There's a
stack of firewood along the fence down behind the barn. I've been meaning to
get it moved. It'd sure be a help to me. And we'd be pleased to have you stay
The fellow set his suitcase at the edge of the porch and
neatly laid his coat and vest on top. Then he set off to work.
Grandma says she doesn't remember how many strangers they
shared a meal with during those Depression days - or how many times that stack
of wood got moved.