Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Poor Farm

It looked like other farms, but it didn't look like them. The big, wood frame, hip roofed farmhouse sat in the middle of a big lawn and there were huge, old trees all around and the lawn was neatly mowed. There was the barn, with the big loft.

But there wasn't a car or pickup truck or tractor in the driveway, no machinery anywhere, no dog, not cats, no chickens. The shades were always drawn and the windows were dark. When we passed it on our way to visit my aunts and uncles,  either my older brother or sister would chirp up and say, "That's the poor farm." I almost got the feeling I was seeing something a little bit forbidden.

Poor Farms, as Wikipedia puts it, "were county or town-run residences where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported at public expense. They were common in the United States beginning in the middle of the 19th century and declined in use after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935 with most disappearing completely by about 1950." And in the Puritan strain of Christianity brought over from the old country, "poverty was seen as a dishonorable state caused by a lack of the moral virtue of industriousness."

And I remember one time when my aunts and uncles were discussing someone they had known when they were younger, a distant relative, and I remember my Uncle Roy, whose every word I hung on, saying, "I guess he's living at the poor farm."

There was silence for a moment. Uncle Roy's tone of voice was not as loud and boisterous as it always was. It was less confident, and soft, and my aunts and uncles and adult cousins all paused and stared, at nothing in particular, for a few seconds, until someone finally changed the subject.

And now I hear that a Democrat, a Cathy Hochul, has won an upset victory in a Republican congressional district special election in rural New York state, and that the issue was the Republicans' plan to do away with the senior citizens' health care program, Medicare.



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