Richard Bostwick Reminiscences
Cab Driving Stories
Welfare Office Stories
Each morning when I got to work, my first order of business was to call each of the four or five private employment agencies to see what jobs, if any, were available. The Federal Government had not yet established the U.S. Employment Service. These private employment agencies charged all the way from $1.00 to $6.00 for a job placement. It all depended on how much the job paid. Most, if not all of the jobs available were for farmhands. During the winter months the only salary for such work was room and board. Among the farm jobs that I got a listing of on this particular morning was one that wanted a man and wife to care for a farm while the owners were wintering in California.
This sounded like a good deal for some couple, as there was no livestock at all on this farm to care for; it was 100% mechanized. All the wife would have to do would be to care for the house and themselves. The husband would be expected to service the tractors and all other farm machinery. The only salary this job paid was room and board. This doesn't sound very attractive perhaps, but at least they would have plenty to eat and a nice warm house for the winter.
I had just finished phoning when a presentable looking fellow came in to see me. He appeared to be in his late 30's. He told me he was married, out of work, and in need of assistance. He also told me he was an automobile mechanic. I felt he would be just the person for the above job. When I offered him the job, he said he did not have proper clothing for farm work. In such a case, we were always willing to purchase suitable clothing for a person. Even so, he said he did not want to work on a farm.
As I said before, room and board is not much of an inducement compared with today's standards, but you must remember this was the middle of a very severe winter and during one of the worst depressions this country had seen in a long, long time.
I then told him, seeing as how he was refusing to accept private employment, I could not give him any help. He then left my office, and I figured I had seen the last of him. A few mornings later when I got to my office, this same fellow-the automobile mechanic-was waiting for me. He had with him a woman and a small child about three years old. After inviting them into my office, he introduced the woman to me as his wife and said the child was his wife's by a previous marriage. He said the child had been staying with a friend of his wife's who lived in Minneapolis, and who unexpectedly had dropped her off last night. He then said, “You cannot refuse to give us help now.” Upon my asking him why not, he replied, “You can't let our little girl go hungry.” I told him the best I could do for him was to offer him the same job as I had offered him the previous day. At this point, the woman became very abusive towards me, and on leaving the office the man threatened to see the ‘authorities.'
I was quite concerned about the situation, so I went up to my boss' office and told him what had happened. He immediately picked up the telephone, called the county attorney, and requested a warrant be issued for this fellow on the grounds of child neglect. It had something to do with his refusing to accept employment that would provide support for their child. A few weeks later, I ran across an officer friend of mine who was with the county attorney's office and I asked him the outcome of the case. He told me a couple of officers had gone to the address our office had given them in order to serve the warrant my boss had requested. He then asked me, “Who do you think came to the door to answer their knock?” I told him I couldn't imagine. He said, “Ruby Rose.” He went on to explain that Ruby Rose was a local prostitute who had finished a jail sentence some weeks ago and this was the first they had seen her since her release.
The disposition of the case was that the child was placed in the children's home and Ruby Rose and her man were given their choice of ninety days in jail or 24 hours to get out of town. They chose the latter. The real mother of the child had to come from Minneapolis and appear in court in order to get her child back. The court reluctantly gave her back her child. And so ended that case.
One cold wintry forenoon, a middle-aged woman came into my office saying she was in need of help. After giving me her name and address, she went on to tell me that her husband had moved out and deserted her. She said he was employed by a local firm and could well afford to support her, but had refused to do so.
I had learned some time ago not to form an opinion until both sides of a situation had been heard. Not being a marriage counselor, and besides it sounded to me that she needed an attorney as well as a social worker, I made an appointment for a caseworker to call on her at her home in order to get all of the details. And if possible to interview the husband as well. The caseworker did interview the husband, and his version of the situation, later on was proven to be true, was quite different from that of his wife's. The woman and her husband had supposedly been a happily married couple until they decided to augment their income by renting out their spare room. After a couple of days, their ad in the local newspaper was answered by a fellow in his late thirties. The room suited him; the rent seemed reasonable, so he moved in. Everything seemed to be going just fine until one morning, shortly after leaving for work, the husband came back home due to a material shortage at his place of employment. He found his wife sharing the same bed with their new roomer.
The fight that followed resulted in the husband coming out second best and being kicked out of the house by the wife's newfound love. This situation remained status quo for several months until one day the wife finally decided that she and her paramour should make their relationship legal by getting married. After her decision became mutual, she went uptown, saw a lawyer, and hired him to obtain for her a divorce. She paid the lawyer the $25.00 retainer fee he requested and not being acquainted with the process of the law, she thought that was all there was to it. Thinking she had purchased herself a divorce and was once more a single person, she went home and started planning for her second wedding.
The lawyer had started proceedings by filing papers of intent and not hearing any more from his new client, he went no further in the matter. Thinking she was finally divorced, the woman and her lover were married.
The legal husband, after reading of the marriage in the local newspaper column of vital statistics, swore out a complaint against his wife-charging her with bigamy. This caused number two husband to panic, and fearing he might be seriously involved, he took off and was never heard of again. Now, with no husband to support her and no lover to buy the groceries, she was destitute and truly did need help.
I was always curious of the outcome of some of the cases that I became acquainted with and would usually follow them up by asking the caseworker in charge as to the outcome. In the above case, the second marriage was annulled, and the legal husband paid the lawyer that his wife had retained the balance of his fee. The divorce was granted, and she became a grass widow on welfare.
As in all professions, you sometimes run across a person who does not have the proper disposition to qualify them for their chosen career. Such was the case of a couple of caseworkers who worked out of our office. They were young, just out of college, and this being their first practical experience, they tended to assume an exaggerated role of authority. If one of these caseworkers found out that a client had a bottle of beer or any other forbidden item, she would want to know where they got the price for it.
As I previously stated, all of the relief clients' needs were taken care of through the issuing of relief orders. These were delivered by the caseworker in whose district the client lived. But some relief orders for those who lived fairly close to our office were left with me at my desk. Those clients would call in person for them.
This particular day, the orders did not come down from the order department on time. So when a little girl came into my office and asked for her daddy's orders, I had to tell her she would have to wait for tomorrow for I was sure they would not be available until then.
The last thing before I went home the orders came down. Knowing how urgently they were needed, I decided to deliver the little girl's order as it was on my way home. Her parents case was in charge of one our young caseworkers who was quite strict and arrogant with all of her clients. As I rapped at the door, I could hear laughter and music inside. The door was opened by the lady of the house, who seemed to be a very pleasant person. I gave her the relief orders and explained that I was delivering them in order to save them an extra day of waiting. I looked beyond her into the house, and I could see that a real old “beer bust” was in progress. She thanked me and seemed rather embarrassed as she apologized for the noise.
As I went down the front walk, her husband caught up with me and asked if I would please not mention the party to their caseworker. I assured him I would not. Well, what did he think I was? Everyone has to let off a little steam once in awhile, and those most depressed are entitled to do so even if it only for a little while.
Every person or family on relief was referred to as a “client” and every client's record was referred to as a “case.” These cases contained all of the families' records. Included were the names and ages of all of their children or dependents.
One bright sunny morning in June a young man about 17 or 18 came into my office and said he would like to have me open a case for him. His name seemed to be familiar and due to his age and familiarity with the terms used in the office, I realized that receiving public assistance was nothing new to him. Upon checking our files, I discovered he was listed as a dependent in his father's file, being one of the 8 or 9 brothers and sisters. I told him I could not open a new case for him, as he was already receiving assistance by way of his father's case. He replied that he was aware of being listed as a dependent in his father's case, but that he was planning on getting married and wanted a case of his own. Needless to say, he was forced to change his plans.
Later on that same afternoon as I came back from lunch, a young couple were waiting to see me. The young mother was teetering a baby buggy, which contained a little baby not more than six months old. It was the same familiar story. The young father had been laid off a few weeks ago, and they were now out of funds, in arrears with rent, and in need of help. The father told me they had walked around the block that our office was in several times before they got up the nerve to come in and ask for assistance. Upon questioning them, they told me they could wait a few days for assistance until a caseworker would call on them at home to arrange a schedule for them, as they still had a few groceries and the baby's milk bill was not overdue. They seemed very happy and relieved as they thanked me and left.
The very next morning when I arrived at my office this same young couple were waiting for me. The father told me that after leaving my office the previous day they had proceeded to their living quarters, which consisted of a couple of upstairs housekeeping rooms in a middle class part of town. During the absence from their apartment, their landlady had locked them out and when they got home they found their suitcases sitting in the hall. The father then told me that by the time they got back to my office we were closed, so they spent the night sleeping in the park.
Now this sounds like a bad situation, but when you consider that it had been a nice warm summer night, they were both young-neither one over 19 years old. The baby had its buggy and blankets to keep it warm, so really they had not suffered any physical harm. The worst thing was that they were both very hungry, not having eaten since the previous noon hour. The baby, of course, had its bottle so it did not mind at all. I issued them an emergency grocery order as well as a rent order. I then called the rooming house that handled such cases for us and was able to obtain a couple of housekeeping rooms for them.
A few days later, about 11:30 a.m., the director told me to get right out to an address on third avenue north in the 1300 block to see if I could help the family at that address as the sheriff's deputies were evicting them for their house. When I arrived at the address, I saw a pile of furniture on the parking strip and the deputies were still carrying out more. I asked the deputy in charge if this was necessary, and he told me this family was several months in arrears in their rent, and that their landlord had been unable to collect any of the rent due. He was demanding that the house be vacated. I went into the house and found the mother standing by the window and she was crying. They had three children-9, 12, and 14 years of age. They were still in school, which was located a block down the street. The father told me they had lived in this house for a long time. Before going on welfare, they had been paying $25.00 per month rent. He had lost his job quite awhile ago and had been unable to find any place to rent for the $12.00 rent allowance furnished by the county, which he had been turning over to his landlord each month.
At this point, school had just let out for noon recess and all the children came streaming by and stopped to watch the furniture being carried out. The family's three children came up on the porch while all of their little schoolmates looked on. One of the deputies reached in his pocket, took out a couple of dollars, gave them to the mother and said, “Here, take the kids up the street to the restaurant and get some dinner” which she did. When they got back from eating, the furniture had all been carried out, the deputies were gone and only the husband and I remained.
I then called Tom and asked him to send a couple of fellows from the relief rolls to come out and act as watchmen during the night and to have them bring out some tarpaulins as it looked like rain. I then loaded the family in the car, got them some emergency orders and took them up to the rooming house where we usually took emergency cases. The next day the furniture was stored in a local warehouse for a few days and with the help of the families' caseworker a house was found for them to move into. Tom sure gave their caseworker hell for letting the matter get as serious as it did.
I remember a case where a caseworker was going to deprive a family of their grocery order for a period of two weeks on account of the father having purchased a can of tobacco on his previous grocery order. Tom called the caseworker in his office and asked her if she smoked. She replied that she did but that she paid for her own cigarettes. Tom said no doubt her client would also if he could, but she was not to penalize the entire family on account of the father's actions. Besides, the grocery man's punishment was sufficient.
As I mentioned before, an awful lot of those who were receiving assistance were friends or acquaintances of mine. Often when some one of them could not get satisfaction from their caseworker, such as getting a little increase in their fuel or grocery order, they would stop in my office and ask me if I could help them. Often as not, I would. I would go up to Hendricks' office and tell him I knew the client and believed that he or she was telling the truth as to their extra need. Tom would usually agree with me and give them the extra allowance. Needless to say, this did not win me any “brownie points” with the caseworkers, but it always made me feel good to be able to help my friends. Of course I never would intercede for anyone I felt was not worthy.
Such a situation occurred one day in which I could not be of any help because Tom was out of town for a couple of days. It pertained to a friend of mine who was on welfare. I had known him for a long time. His name was_____. I'll just call him Bert. Bert came in my office and told me he had been up to see his caseworker to see if she would issue him his coal order today instead of next week when it was due. He was entirely out of fuel. Even though we were experiencing an extreme cold spell, she refused his request, telling him he should have been more conservative. Bert asked me if I would see Tom on his behalf. I told him Tom was out of town, but as soon as he got back, I certainly would try and help.
That night at home after having eaten supper, I kept thinking of Bert's predicament, especially as it was a very cold evening-well below zero. I went out to my shed and filled a gunnysack with coal from my coal bin. I put it in the back of the car and drove over to Bert's house. When he let me in, I sat the sack of coal on the floor and I noticed the front room contained a large pile of cardboard cartons which Bert was tearing up and feeding into the front room heater in order to keep his family from freezing. Upon Tom's return to town the following day, Bert received his fuel order.
Continue to part 4
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