Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by hearing the perfect choice of a word, or the uttering of a sentence? Both happened to me last week. I need to tell you about them.
I was coming home from the post office midday Thursday and caught the noontime news on public radio. A journalist was interviewing unemployed people, taking the pulse of the nation through their stories. The woman he was interviewing lived in Minneapolis, I think, or some city in the Midwest. She had applied for unemployment back in April but still not been told whether or not she qualifies. She reported that she was trying to decide whether to sell her car, eliminating that payment, or keep it in case she lost her apartment, “so I’ll have someplace to live.”
“I just don’t know what I’ll do if they turn me down and I have to start the process all over again,” she said, starting to cry. “I can’t go another 90 days.” Caught by the terror of her dilemma, the interviewer asked her quietly, “Do you have any hope right now?” There was silence for the longest time, and then a small “no” came through. And the interviewer said “Then we’ll hold on to hope for you.” It was the most humane piece of journalism I’d heard all month, and I sobbed the rest of the way home.
It’s probably only a coincidence that I was carrying home from the post office a small envelope with a CD inside it, the copy of a radio program from 35+ years ago about my mentor, Paul Taylor. It was produced by Valley native Vic Bedoian while he was away in Berkeley, before he returned to farm near his hometown of Sanger. The program was made to commemorate Paul’s death in 1984, but included portions of an interview Vic had done in 1979.
In one segment of the interview, Paul is discussing his Dust Bowl work documenting what has now become known as “the Great Migration” into California. That migration was seen at the receiving end as an unforeseen flood of migrant farmworkers, poor, diseased, problematic. The word that is most often used to describe them is “displaced”: displaced tenant farmers and sharecroppers now flapping helplessly in the winds of change in the nation’s form of agricultural production as well as from the dust that dried them up and loosened their hold on the land.
But “displaced” is too genteel a word for what was happening then or is happening now. It says nothing about the force required to move someone away from the roof over their heads to the open road or a quiet place somewhere to sleep one night, night after night, in your car.
In the interview, Paul chose a different word. On the tape you can hear him pause a second, then pluck a more powerful one from those available in his mental vocabulary: “dislodged.”
“The drought that came in ’34 in the Middle West was deepening, and people were more and more—dislodged. All the way from the Dakotas down to Texas and including the Ozark country of Arkansas and Oklahoma. People were dislodged from the land wholesale, and they got into their jalopies and headed into Arizona and California.”
Paul Taylor’s wife, Dorothea Lange, took her most famous photograph of a woman with three children under a canvas sheet in the rain. They were stranded in a muddy pea pickers’ camp in Nipomo, where the rain had ruined the crop. The woman had sold the tires off her car for food and now could go nowhere, as hopeless a situation as one might want to imagine. Dorothea drove home in the dark, worked all night in the darkroom, and published the photograph the next day in the San Francisco Examiner. Help was sent immediately to the people trapped in that soggy, starving camp.
Maybe the same gift will happen to that woman waiting for her unemployment benefits in Minneapolis, or wherever the government wheels have ground to a halt. Maybe that’s what it means to hold on to hope for somebody else.
Trudy Wischemann is a devoted follower who writes. You can send her your anti-dislodgement ideas c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.