June 28, 2009
Bessie Huey was a fixture of the working-class Pennsylvania neighborhood where my husband spent his childhood. Bessie used to show up now and then at my husband’s house, which was filled with children, boarders, relatives, cats, and dogs. Boo, hoo. Boo, hoo, Bessie would cry. I saw you all sitting around the table last night and it was so beautiful. It was so beautiful it made me cry.
Bessie once called the police to her home with a report of domestic violence. She claimed her husband, who weighed 90 pounds and was incapacitated by illness, was beating her. Bessie was a large woman, about 200 pounds, and strong. No report was ever filed. Bessie, who favored tent-like dresses on her ample frame, appeared to idolize both domestic health and domestic un-health.
Bessie was an eccentric. Healthy neighborhoods include eccentrics. It’s the sterile, unbalanced place that does not. My husband grew up in a normal place, with children playing in the streets, mothers at home, couples yelling at each other instead of divorcing, and taverns filled with men at night. It was a normal place, not a perfect one. A big reason why it was normal was that it had a healthy economy. There were plenty of factories and plenty of jobs.
That town is gone. Much of America is gone. It’s disappeared because Americans have decided they don’t need an industrial economy. America has given away its factories to the world. The whole stunning transformation of the American economy has been treated as if it was inevitable and not the product of choice.