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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Young Family, Penniless: 1936

Young Family, Penniless: 1936

November 1936. "Young family, penniless, hitchhiking on U.S. Highway 99 in California. The father, 24, and the mother, 17, came from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Early in 1935 their baby was born in the Imperial Valley, California, where they were working as field laborers." Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.

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We might have been related...

but I don't know of any relatives in Winston-Salem. (The "y" in "michaeljy" stands for Young.)

My family was pretty lucky in that most had stable jobs during the Depression in the Carolinas. Grandfather with the Post Office, great-grandfather with Coca-Cola. My father turned 17 just in time for World War II.

My maternal grandfather, a farmer, did work temporarily with the WPA as a road paving crew foreman, after the price of cotton collapsed. He told the story of a cousin who was sitting next to a railroad track watching a freight train pull slowly by, and, despondent over not being able to support his family, decided to commit suicide by placing his head over the rail, allowing a wheel to decapitate him. Another cousin was conductor of the train. It was a small town.

Still Dignified

Despite all their trials and tribulations, this couple still maintain their dignity and dress themselves, and their small child, in a fine manner. This shows their unshakeable optimism and their strength as a family. Better times are ahead!

We're the people

Ma Joad summed it up best in The Grapes of Wrath: "Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."

One wonders what happened to them

I find this a very touching photo, a vignette of the seemingly hopeless situation of many people during those years. The nation survived, but did they? How did they fare, I wonder? And where are their descendants today? Do they even know what it took to bring them to this point in time, with all our relative prosperity and advances?

Ties That Bind

The one main thread that I see in all these Depression Era photographs is: no matter how poor the family, no matter how dire the circumstances - there is a bond, a closeness, a sense of loving togetherness that overwhelms me.

All these folks know a heart-wrenching poverty that I can only imagine; yet.. there is always a sense of family, of staying together no matter what life brings.

How strong these people were! I admire them far more than my poor words can convey. I hope this family somehow, someway found a better life - they deserved it!

I guess

things aren't too bad with me.

We need some Joe Manning magic.

Oh, how I would love to learn about this baby's life. Such a powerfully stark and simple photo.

Futile, and Yet --

Photos like this make me want to entertain sappy thoughts about time travel, retroactive charity, and other impossibilities. An obviously cherished baby, parents -- turned out as presentably as they could be under the circumstances -- vainly seeking a chance at subsistence along the relentless desolation of old Route 99 .... If this scene doesn't personify the concept of the "deserving poor," then the viewer has neither heart nor mind.

One of Many

Cannot help but wonder what happened to this couple and child. Probably many more out there in the same boat during the great depression. We will never know but lets hope they did OK.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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