The Sandwich Story

Gramma Neal was a pretty rock-ribbed conservative. For reasons lost in the mists of time, she despised Franklin Roosevelt and loved Wendell Willkie. At some long-ago family get-together, she and my Great-Uncle Grover — who was married to one of Grampa Neal’s sisters — got into an argument about politics, and she became so angry that she refused to ever speak to him again. Family lore holds that, from that day forward until the day of Grover’s death, she never spoke directly to him, and instead asked that messages be conveyed to him by third party family members. Gramma obviously knew how to holds a grudge!

My grandmother’s political views may have been strongly shaped by an incident that she loved to retell whenever family talks turned to political issues. During the Great Depression, after The Firestone Bank was permitted to reopen, Gramma and Grampa Neal and their family were financially comfortable. Other people, obviously, were not so lucky. Occasionally a passing stranger would stop at their door and ask for help. On one occasion, an apparently able-bodied man asked for help in getting a meal. Gramma went back to the kitchen, prepared a sandwich, and put it in a paper bag with an apple and a napkin. She then gave it to the man and watched unnoticed from the window as the man looked in the bag, saw with a look of evident disappointment that there was no money, and then crumpled up the bag — sandwich, apple, and all — and threw it in the bushes in front of the house. This deeply offended Gramma, and I think it forever colored her views. Even during the Great Depression, when an economic catastrophe caused thousands of businesses to fail and threw millions of people out of work, she tended to be suspicious of people who were out of a job and thought they were freeloaders just looking for a handout.

I took a different lesson away from The Sandwich Story. It seemed to me that Gramma was viewing an enormous problem from the narrow perspective of her own experience, without considering the fact that her own experience was necessarily very limited. As we move forward into a time of economic dislocation that lesson is worth remembering.

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