I just watched the last program of the Prohibition series on PBS. No I don’t remember Prohibition, but I was born around that era.
And when prohibition ended in December 5, 1932, I had just turned 6 months old and was fighting for my life. I had come down with what appeared to be a severe case of dysentery, but ordinary treatment was not working. And then the doctor (Dr. Bilderback) analyzed my system and determined that I had cholera, the only case reported in Portland, Oregon, in over 20 years, according to the report in the Oregonian (newspaper).
The only effective remedy was blood transfusion, and it had to be directly from a donor at that time. My father’s partner in Portland had a son named Buster who gave me transfusions, and apparently I bounced back from death’s door. I don’t ever recall meeting Buster, but I certainly owe him a lot.
So I grew up in Portland during the depression. We lived a comfortable middle-class life and honestly I was never aware of the terrible effect it had on America. Leo Seltzer was on the road with first walkathons and then the Roller Derby, both kind of traveling road shows, with very low prices and high appeal at this time when there just wasn’t much money.
Almost from my very first memories, I was aware of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our president, who was pretty much revered and reviled at the same time.
You have to remember that Roosevelt declared a bank holiday – closing them all and then re-opening them with guarantees for the depositors – and started a whole series of programs to help create jobs, including the conservation corps which put thousands to work rebuilding our infrastructure. The bankers, big business and extremely wealthy hated him.
Yet, he was our only four-term president, although he died shortly after winning his fourth term, throwing an entirely unprepared Harry Truman into that high office.
Roosevelt had suffered severe polio as an adult, but he managed to keep the fact that he could not use his legs from the public. There were never any pictures of him in a wheel chair or him struggling to walk. The press fully cooperated; could you imagine that today.
But what I remember of Roosevelt was his marvelous speaking voice, his sense of humor, and his ability to reach all Americans without television, jet airplanes and certainly without social media.
I remember my third grade teacher asking our class who was the finest orator (I am not certain she used that word) in the country and we all knew it was our President.
He held “fireside chats” in which he talked to all Americans by radio to let us know what the state of the country was, and what he was doing to make it and our lives better, as well as why it was necessary for us to go to war and why we all must sacrifice (which we did).
When I hear his voice today I know it doesn’t have the majesty or resonance I heard; certainly recordings weren’t capable of capturing the full essence.
Obviously, he was a man for the times, and his wife Eleanor, who I did get to hear speak in person, was the woman; the first first Lady who really expressed herself to America. Quite a duo.
You should have been there.
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