"I don't think people were put on earth to suffer. I think that's a lot of nonsense. I think we are the highest development on the earth, and I think we were put here to live and be happy and to enjoy everything that's here. I don't think it’s right for a handful of people to get ahold of all the things that make living a joy instead of a sorrow. You wake up in the morning, and it consciously hits you -- it's just like a big hand that takes your heart and squeezes it -- because you don't know what the day is going to bring: hunger or you don't know."
In 1971, Studs Terkel conducted interviews with Mary Owsley and her daughter, Peggy Terry. These interviews were later transcribed for his book, Hard Times, a collection of interviews he made. Peggy speaks of the story of her life, her travels and observations on her times. It is hard for any of us to imagine what life must have been like during the Great Depression no matter how hard we try. Peggy looked back on her life as a migrant farmer in Texas, hitchhiking with her husband while pregnant, watching Martin Luther King being beat up on a street corner in Montgomery, Alabama. She speaks so simply but so eloquently that it just takes your breath away. In the middle of a memory, she hits upon the truth with such an accurate and devastating aim.
Mary’s husband was a bonus marcher in 1931, and from what she says about him, he suffered from what we now call PTSD from being a machine gunner in WWI. She explained that there was a big oil boom in Oklahoma in the 20’s, bringing folks from all over to work. Then the crash came and depression went on and on as Hoover did nothing. The suffering was just horrendous, and these interviews really give the listener a sense of what it was like for the migrants, the homeless, the hungry children.
Mary and Peggy talk about not just poverty and hunger, but their personal feelings about despair, economic injustice, and racism. Their stories are so compelling and demonstrate why Studs Terkel, who understood their value and was so skilled at these kind of interviews, received the acclaim he did, in life as well as death.
Thanks, Studs, for allowing me to meet these women. Please listen and judge for yourself. Here are two samples.
At this site, you can find a lot more of the interviews. http://www.studsterkel.org/htimes.php