Our discussions about dumpster diving is cause for reflection. Cause to reflect back to the 1950’s, when I was a boy. How times have changed.
I remember when I was a child, my mother’s Aunt Ann was in her fifties when her husband died. They had no children. Aunt Ann was that slobbery mouth old woman who thought each of us boys should give her a kiss every time we saw her. Repulsed, we would turn away with looks of horror. To our dismay, Mom would always say, “Now Ohg, kiss your Aunt Ann.” Yuk! I am cringing as I write this sentence.
But Aunt Ann had bigger problems than getting weary nephews to kiss her. She had never worked and had no job skills and was widowed. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society entitlement programs were nonexistent. The local factories would not hire an ‘old woman.’ It would be ten years before she could collect Social Security. Access to health care would not be available in her lifetime.
We would visit her occasionally, probably a couple of times a month. She lived in poverty in the 1300 block of Boyd Street. Her home was half of a double-tenement, the 1950 version of a duplex. I seem to recall three small crowded rooms with a space heater. I remember Mom telling me that Aunt Ann made about $8.00 a week by ‘taking in sewing and laundry.’ But this was not enough.
My parents bought groceries at Mendel’s Grocery, around the corner at 13th and Grand Avenue. The Mendel brothers ran that neighborhood grocery store for about fifty years. I remember them for a couple of reasons – they let my parents run a tab – that was important to me because it meant we would always have food. And they gave their old produce to Aunt Ann. They were also my first experience with ‘Jewish people.’
Aunt Ann would walk to the store and the Mendel brothers would have saved some produce, they might even have their ‘boy’ carry the salvaged produce home for Ann. An evening meal for Aunt Ann was boiled turnips or cabbage.
I remember the Mendel brothers were wise and charitable businessmen. I never heard what would happen if someone did not pay their tab. But I do know that they probably saved Aunt Ann from starvation. I suspect they helped others in the neighborhood also.
But times have changed.
See also: Freegans and Hippies