Friday, December 8, 2023

Shaped by the Times in Which we Live


We are all shaped by the times in which we live. Understanding our ancestors begins with discovering the challenges they grappled with during their lifetime.

Perhaps, in retrospect, it was poor timing to celebrate one's wedding less than three months before the start of the Great Depression. But if people had any idea what was about to hit them before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, they all would have made different choices.

As for my musician father and his bride, their choice as newlyweds was to move from thriving New York City to Manchester, New Hampshire—supposedly so my dad could take on a gig at a resort in lovely northern New England. That, at least, was the indication he provided when the 1930 U.S census was taken. He reported working as a musician for a band when the enumerator stopped at his door on April 9.

What would entice a New York City musician to move from a lively entertainment scene to set up residence in a remote city of less than eighty thousand people? When I first considered that question, I had the romantic vision of a scenario similar to the plot of the 1954 movie, White Christmas—a once-thriving resort now on the verge of bankruptcy but about to be revived by the influx of some talented entertainers. 

In reality, Manchester had already been on a downhill slide, by then a longstanding indicator of my dad's ill-fated move. Early in the 1920s, a nine-month strike by workers at two major textile companies had hit the city hard, and the textile industry in Manchester began its slow decline. By 1930, the population had shrunk by two percent over that previous rocky decade, not a good omen for the softer "industries" such as entertainment.

For Manchester, my dad's new home, there was more turmoil ahead. One of the two companies emerging from the strike ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1935. A year later, a devastating flood damaged city infrastructure as well as industrial complexes along the river's edge

By then, however, my dad was long gone from the area—and for reasons beyond the economic problems. In the winter of 1933, he and his bride had welcomed the arrival of their firstborn child, naming her Maureen, just as the economy had hit bottom and was beginning its long climb back to normal. 

The child was not to be welcomed into their home, however, for another set of devastating reasons having nothing to do with the economy: Maureen was born with spina bifida, compounded by meningitis, and spent the remaining twenty three days of her life in an institution—an "infant asylum."

Far from family members who could provide help for the new mother—or at least consolation to the couple following their tragic loss—their decision to return to New York City must have made sense on so many more levels than simply the economic.

Whatever the decision process and the timeline of the move, by 1934 it was easy to see that the young couple was back home in the city, for that was the arrival, in September, of their newborn son. Leaving a sad episode of their life, a less than successful career venture, but more importantly, a precious firstborn child, must have been difficult, but in those troubled times, it was best to be closer to the support of a family network.


  1. Replies
    1. I know that must have been a difficult time in his life, but the odd thing is, I don't remember him ever saying anything about it happening. That in itself is quite telling.


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