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COMMUNITY VOICE

Remembering Dad: Some lean years growing up, but family life was great

Friday, June 13, 2014 - 12:01 am

I would like to tell you about my dad. I have always said that my one regret in life is that I could have done more for my mother, but I never mentioned my dad.

My parents came to South Bend from the Boston area in 1928 along with 10 siblings of my mom. They were seeking better employment here. All parties had little or no formal education. Most of the group did find jobs, but at the minimum wage, if there was one.

My dad worked for the WPA, which was a government aid program to relieve the nation’s unemployment problem in the 1930s. The folks in the media made fun of these workers and the program.

Dad continued to have minimum-paying jobs until he became a deputy sheriff in St. Joe County. He really liked this job, although it was a political appointment. He was a Democrat, and the Democrats usually won the elections. One election went to the Republicans, and he was lucky to get a job as a bartender. The next election he got his job back, and the law changed, removing it as a political position. Dad retired from the sheriff’s staff at age 63.

Although Dad had a steady job, he could not get ahead financially. He never had a bank account, lived payday to payday and never owned a home as our family moved several times. Dad was a victim of high interest loans, which were not regulated at the time. Because of the high interest, these loans would never be paid in full.

This is similar to the “paycheck loans” today. I remember seeing the threatening letters from the loan companies, and it stressed me. I still get upset when I see ads for these “payday loans.”

We had some lean years growing up, but the family life was great. We had many family picnics at Pinhook Park, trips to the beach at Lake Michigan, trips to the local zoo and the zoo in Michigan City. We never missed a fireworks display and watched many parades as a family.

We listened to the radio as a family, never missing Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Walter Winchel. We made one big trip to Chicago to the Riverfront Amusement Park. My dad took me to watch the Bendix Brakes softball team play the Zollner Pistons. He also took me to see the Studebaker baseball team playing the traveling teams for the “Negro League.” We would always stop for a treat on the way home.

We always had an auto that got us around. I remember that my dad always bought $1 worth of gas, never more (about 5 gallons).

We lived in the poor white section of town adjoining the segregated black folks’ area, so racial prejudice was never a factor in our lives. My mother died at 56, and my father died at 65. I always assumed my brothers and I would have to supplement our parents’ income in their old age, but it did not happen.

The only asset my dad left me was his service revolver, which has been passed on to a grandson. My dad had very little education, but made the most of his life that he could and gave us many great memories.

I miss him.

Peter Smith is a resident of Fort Wayne.