Not The Home I Remember

June 9, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

Mother met me at the train station, alone. While not much of a surprise I was disappointed my father was absent. Even from a distance I could see mother was tearing up at just the sight of me. We had parted on a fight at Christmas and I suppose the months of silence have weighed on us both. I embraced her in a hug as soon as I was near enough and she returned it, strong and comforting.

“Welcome home.” She said.

“It’s good to be home.” I replied still not letting go.

After a long moment of silent hugging and gentle pats, not to mention a few sniffles, we gathered my cases from the baggage claim. Despite my best efforts, mother insisted on carrying one herself. It was helpful but, I have gotten used to doing things myself and without assistance from anyone. Part of me wanted to prove that to my mother, but mostly I was just glad to be home.

In front of the train station I learned we were walking. I had expected a coach to be waiting for us, normally it would have been. Times however, are anything but normal. Father says he can trace it all back to November 6, 1888. That was the day Benjamin Harrison was elected president. There are still hard feelings over the blocks of five which in essence gave the election to Harrison for monetary compensation despite his losing the popular vote to sitting President Grover Cleveland.

The reference is only natural for men in father’s line of work. The high tariffs enacted during Harrison’s term of office have created a large part of the problems we face today. The ideology of course was to promote industrialization within the United States and a self sufficiency which our country has yet to achieve.

My father has long made his money off importing foreign goods, usually from Britain, and distributing them around the country for sale. In most cases the items are not even available from manufacturers in the United States and in the few cases they are, the quality is severely inferior to the imported ones and crazily enough, more expensive. The high tariff rates have choked off importers like my father and killed or slowed progress toward modern luxuries in rural parts of the country.

I do not pretend to comprehend the full implications of international trading policies but it would seem to me instead of addressing specific problems with direct action oriented legislation, our congress and President chose to use a one-size-fits-all solution, which of course means it fits no one and nothing.

From my own perspective, I can understand father’s viewpoint, but it seems to me it all got markedly worse in 1893. The crash of the stock market caused by the obvious flaw in the silver coinage policies of Harrison quickly took its toll across America. Money starting becoming scarce then and they say that is when the depression began. Laborers across the country have been striking ever since and who can blame them when they have lost more than half of their buying power between inflation, the disappearing dollar, and rising taxes?

President Cleveland appears not to understand the problems or simply does not care. Either way the laborer mood in America seems to be getting worse by the day. The President has used Federal Troops repeatedly to put down strikes and force laborers back to work in what he calls vital industries for America. The question is how can these industries be so vital and not recognize their employees as equally vital? And that is the truth of the matter because you cannot claim to hold them as vital when you send them to work at gunpoint and pay them less than what they need to feed and house their families.

Just a few weeks ago there was another labor revolt in Colorado. Coal miners took up arms to fight off the private party strike breakers and several people were killed before troops arrived to force it all to an unsatisfactory end. There are even rumors women were fighting alongside the men there. When women are taking up arms with men, the situation can only be worse than imaginable.

These were my thoughts as mother and I walked toward home in silence. I was prepared for a long journey, but was taken by surprise when mother turned onto a street I had never traversed before.

“Where are going, mother? It is this way.” I said.

“Not anymore.” She replied.

We shared a look which conveyed more than any words ever could. There was sadness in her eyes and I suddenly felt guilty for being away at school and for the most part happy. The months I have been absent must have been hard and seen harder choices made than I could imagine.

“We sold the house.” Mother said and wiped tears from her eyes.

“But why?” I asked foolishly.

I need not have asked for, I knew the answer all ready.

“It is only your father and I now. You will be married soon. We don’t need so much space.” She lied.

I pretended to believe her. I think it is easier this way for all of us. It was not long until we arrived at the apartment. I would not call it a bad place to live, its relative central location being a major plus, it was also spacious for an apartment. The bedroom set aside for me was about the same size as my room at Carrington Manor only here I did not have to share with three other girls.

I did my best to make mother feel comfortable and proud by complimenting the décor and spaciousness. She smiled but I could tell it was as much a façade as my own. I wanted to ask about my brothers but something told me it was best to wait for father to get home.

There was a nice perk to the apartment though which certainly pleased mother. It had a telephone. Even Carrington Manor was void of one of those still. Although I heard through the rumor mill known as The Paper, the school would be acquiring some of them during the summer break.

Maybe in the new year it will make the distance from home to school seem less. There is something magical about being able to talk to a person you love even if you cannot see them.

Father arrived late in the evening. Mother and I had already eaten and she had saved a warm plate for him. Father was not to be deterred from me though. He waved her off, dismissing the food in favor of wrapping me in his arms and squeezing me into oblivion.

Only then, when he was satisfied I knew just how much he had missed me, did he settle down to eat. Afterward, he produced a letter from Primrose College. He sat it down on the table and patted it with his hand.

“Read this, Elizabeth.” He said.

I picked it up and opened it. The letter inside was short and to point.

Dear Mr. Bassett,

We regret to inform you that under the current standards your family does not qualify for the reduced admission rates or scholarship. If you intend for Elizabeth to continue at Primrose College, please send the full tuition amount no later than July 15th.


Dean Steadward
Primrose College

I frowned and fought back tears. After a moment I looked up at my father again. He also appeared sad and tired.

“I won’t be going back.” I stated.

“Maybe not, but I have a plan.” He replied.

A glimmer of hope illuminated my mood.

“Tell me.” I demanded.

“In the morning. For now, you need a good night’s sleep.” He replied.

I sighed. There was no arguing with him and he would never comprehend the logic of the sleepless night he condemned me to by withholding his plan.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Ashley, thanks, well written, we tend to forget that depressions happen quite often, generally due to inept government.
Warm hugs,