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The Words of My Father: A Pot to Pee In

My God, I’m not sure my friend Zulma knows what she uncovered when she suggested this series of articles. It unlocked a treasure chest within me. Words of my father came pouring out, each one worthy of a story, and this is one of them:

“He doesn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out!”

My father!

My father!

Welcome to the Great Depression

I’m not sure if this old saying was born during the Great Depression but, if not, it should have been. Is there a more appropriate or accurate description of poverty? Not only does that person not have a chamber pot to urinate in, but they don’t even have a home where they can urinate.

It would be impossible for me, with words, to accurately describe what life was like during the Great Depression. My parents were teens during the decade of the Thirties. Their stories are burned into my psyche, as they should be lest I forget.

These were Midwest people definitely not born into the lap of luxury. Their families had to scramble and hustle and work hard just to make ends meet prior to 1929; after 1929, the bottom fell out of any hopes they might have had and no, that is not hyperbole.

After 1929, it was not a matter of having enough food for “three squares” per day; it was a matter of having enough food to survive.

After 1929, it was not a matter of having enough money to pay the house payment; it was a matter of having enough money to purchase a tarp to serve as a roof for your temporary housing i.e. tarpaper shack!

After 1929, it was not a matter of getting up early enough to go to work; it was a matter of getting up early enough to stand in bread lines before the bread supply ran out.

Sound familiar?

Hopelessness during hard times

Hopelessness during hard times

Welcome to 2021

It would be unjust for me to write this article without drawing parallels to the world of 2021. The economy for some, in what was once the richest country in the world, no longer exists and no, that is not hyperbole.

I heard someone talking in the grocery store the other day, complaining about the number of people still drawing unemployment during the pandemic. “Why don’t they get off their lazy asses and get a job?” he asked the clerk, and I had to wonder what alternate reality this man was living in. I was instantly reminded of a quote from some Wall Street titan, in the 1930, who said that “failure is simply a lack of character.”

Really? It is such a smug thing to say, the Haves snubbing their noses over the Have Nots, snappy little one-liners which inaccurately sum up an entire economic collapse, and it is beneath anyone with an ounce of empathy to say such things.

How many are struggling in 2021?

How many are struggling in 2021?

My Dad’s Solution

My father only knew one way out of “the outhouse of life,” and that was to work harder, try harder, and never take a step backwards. If there was work in a town sixty miles away, by God he would ride the freight train boxcars to that work, sleeping under cardboard at night, staying warm by the fires burning in trash cans . . . at the age of fifteen!

If one job wasn’t enough for the money his family needed, by God he would work two, and never, never did he believe any job was beneath him, not then, not when I knew him, not once, for to have any job was to have a gift many wish they had.

And did he look down his nose at those who were not working? Please! Both he, and my mother, were two of the most generous people I have known. Volunteer at the church, volunteer at the school, help here, help there, help anywhere it was needed because, well, that’s what neighbors do for neighbors, period, end of story, and they knew all too well what the needy were feeling.

What Would They Be Doing Today?

If they were alive, in 2021, they would be doing the same thing, the only thing, they knew to do for those in need: help them.

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Make no mistake about it, my dad hated laziness. According to Dale LeRoy Holland, if you were able-bodied, if you were willing, and if the playing field was level so that anyone willing could find a job, then everyone should be working. He believed hard work helped to mold a strong character. He believed that providing for yourself and your family was a source of pride. It’s what a man does, no complaints, no hesitation, no excuses.

But when no work exists – when no opportunities are available – when despite a man’s best efforts, no hope can be found – then a hand-up is what a man needs, and that hand-up must come from those who are capable of the simple action of reaching out.

I Think About Him Quite Often in 2021

Every single time I pass a homeless person, standing on a street corner with a sign which reads “Need Help,” I think of my dad. What would he do? Every single time I hear the new unemployment figures on the news, and the business reports of small businesses going out of business, life dreams washed away by a small virus, circumstances swirling out of control for millions, I think of my dad. “He doesn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out,” not spoken sarcastically, not spoken with any sense of entitlement, just a simple statement which so clearly, so accurately, describes the plight of good people caught up in a nightmare not of their doing.

We Can Do Better

I have said this many times, in other writings, and it goes something like this: in what is considered, by many, to be the richest, most-powerful nation on earth (I’m speaking of the United States, or course), it is unforgiveable that children go to bed hungry each night. It is unforgiveable that people die on the streets. It is unforgiveable and, quite frankly obscene, that corporations make ungodly profits while so many have to work two jobs simply to pay for rent and food.

No, I am not a socialist, and I resent anyone saying such a thing simply because I believe in fairness, and no, my father was not a socialist either. In fact, he did not believe in handouts, nor did he believe in government assistance where assistance wasn’t needed. But he did believe in a level playing field, and he did believe if a man (or woman) works hard, it should at least be possible that they can get ahead a little, and not have to worry about feeding themselves and their family.

“He doesn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.” Take a drive around your city. Pay close attention to what you see. That rather descriptive gem from my father can be seen, in living color, in practically every neighborhood in this country, and I, for one, think it is profoundly sad.

What can I do to make things better? I’m only one man. And the answer, of course, is simply this: I can only do what I can only do, but if millions of people did the same, maybe we could take a bite out of poverty.

Just random thoughts, inspired by a man I adored fifty years ago.

Thanks so much for joining me.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 22, 2021:

Manatita, your last thought, time and effort are needed to truly understand, is a universal statement. My God, when will we learn as a society? We are all in this together.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 22, 2021:

Thank you Rodric! I think now, more than ever, compassion is needed. We cannot count on the government to solve our every need. Neighbors need to step up and offer help when possible.

manatita44 from london on February 21, 2021:

A truly exquisite piece. Hadn't heard hat line before, but it's more than excellent for poets. Gives me images of the street kids wandering at nights in the slums of ... wherever, eating when they are lucky enough to find a bin with something, or bathing only when the rain falls.

Of course there are different levels of poverty and indeed homelessness. Don't know if anyone should speak like this 'poor' fellow did, homelessness and poverty are truly complex and there are over a hundred different reasons for them.

I knew of a black man who became friends with a Klan leader once, as he felt he needed to understand his point of view. Sometimes time and effort are needed, to truly understand the plight of the impoverished.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on February 20, 2021:

This went right to my heart as I think bout our people in Texas freezing. We are blessed as a nation, but if we turn our backs on the poor and needy I do believe great judgments will come on our heads. Your Dad was a good man in my estimation, which I admit, is limited. I know that people are my family and we should help how we can. Thanks for this.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 20, 2021:

Very true, Flourish! Small victories you can build on; inactivity you cannot. Thank you for mentioning that.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 19, 2021:

You have great empathy for those who are struggling and hungry. Many people who are not in that position right now probably feel helpless and overwhelmed by what they see around them. Having a couple of action items one can take to help usually makes one feel better, I find. Every little act of kindness helps.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 19, 2021:

MG, thank you! We do have our problems in this county. I'm not sure any leadership can fix the problems quickly. I think this is going to take a serious effort by government and citizens to pull us out of this mess.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 19, 2021:

Thank you Nithya! I agree with you about my parents. Hopefully we will all learn to help one another more often.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 19, 2021:

Peggy, I'm so glad to hear you now have power and water. What a mess! Twice, since living here in Olympia, I have gone a week without power. Both times it was so cold you could see your breath in the house. I cooked by barbecue, but had no heating source at all. It was horrible, so I can relate quite well.

Good luck this weekend!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 18, 2021:

Billy, I read his article once and then read it again. It made me think that why should it happen like that in America. Comparatively I was born in a poorer country but frankly I have never struggled and neither did my father. So I do not know what struggle is. It is a shame that in the present time in the most powerful country in the world people still have to struggle. Throughout the article your love and respect for your dad comes out like a beacon and that is the most refreshing part of this article. America is the centre of capitalism but something will have to be done about an equitable distribution of wealth and also the race problem. I find it difficult to believe that the present American leadership is competent to solve this problem. Thank you for a wonderful article.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on February 18, 2021:

Your parents were kind, generous and wonderful. This world needs more people like them. If each one of us did our part to help this world will be a better place.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 18, 2021:

I grew up also hearing that expression. Your assessment of the situation now in 2021 is accurate. So many people, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs. Sadly, some of those jobs will not return. We can all reach out and do our part to help, but sometimes there IS a need for our government to work efficiently and help with major concerns.

We finally have BOTH our electricity and running water operational again. We have been through the wringer the past few days with the freezing weather. Some of our friends in other parts of the city still do not have running water. Here is where we need good governing decisions. There will be an analysis of why our Texas infrastructure failed. I can only hope that this time it is hardened to withstand days of freezing weather. It is not like this has not happened in the past.

The lowest it got in our home was 49 degrees. We are lucky that we had a fireplace to burn our gas logs. Many people do not have that luxury...or two bathtubs to be able to fill with water.

Someone should also rethink building codes and not put plumbing pipes in attics which is common. Too many of them burst each time that we have prolonged freezing temperatures.

Enough of my diatribe. Just know that I agree with you 100% on what you wrote.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Heidi, we are going to experience the seriousness of this pandemic for a decade, at least. A country does not just bounce back from this much upheaval and poverty. I'm afraid we're in the deep end without water wings right now, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Zulma, a mattress might not be a bad idea.

Mom was a character in her own right. Maybe soon I can start a series of articles highlighting her Midwest wisdom.

Thanks, as always, my friend. Now go pick out that mattress and start stuffing.

Happy Thursday, Zulma!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

I appreciate that, Ravi! Thank you very much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

It is my pleasure, Devika! Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

You assume correctly, Jo! He did not begrudge the rich their money, but he did believe they had a moral responsibility to give back to their workers.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

That, Linda, is a very accurate description of my dad...he was a very interesting person!

If you lived in certain areas in the U.S. right now, you would know what the Great Depression was like, sad to say.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Same with me, Rasma! I would like just one more sit down with him. That would be a magical conversation.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Isn't that the truth, John? We didn't realize it as kids; now that the parents are gone, we do realize it. Sigh!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Thank you Linda! That fills me with smiles.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

It is funny, isn't it, Bill, what we remember, the words, that were important, even if, at the time, we didn't understand their importance.

Take care, buddy! Enjoy your time in Florida!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Mr. Happy, the first step, for any nation, or community, is to acknowledge that the economic system is broken. If that is admitted, then steps can be taken to fix it, or overhaul it, or toss the damned thing out the window. A nation will never be strong as long as people are starving and cannot stay warm in the winter.

I don't know how long it will take for the U.S. to wake up and smell the decay.

Take care, my friend, and blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

Thank you Pamela! He was a fine role model in most aspects of his life. I am filled with wonderful memories.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 18, 2021:

My parents were born in the Depression. So even though they were still really young, the influence of it on many of their attitudes was obvious. Life = struggle.

The roots of poverty are so complex that to judge anyone for their situation is absurd. As Jo noted, "social Darwinism" is not something your dad, or anyone, would or should ascribe to. And the economic fallout from the pandemic will impact our economy for years.

Thanks for sharing your family's wisdom with us.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on February 18, 2021:

Hi Bill.

What I uncovered was, apparently, a new vein of stories that needed to be told. It's like you say, Bill, you never know where inspiration will come from next.

In a way, the '20s seem to be echoing the last '20s. A global pandemic, economic uncertainty, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer. I worry another Great Depression may be on the way. I'm seriously wondering if I should just stuff my money in a mattress.

I'm glad I was able to jog some memories with this new series. And while I enjoy reading about your Dad, I'm hoping you Mom came out with some gems and we can hear more about her.

Have a great day, Bill.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on February 18, 2021:

Thanks, Bill for sharing such a personal story. It is heartwarming and well written as usual.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 18, 2021:

Bill thank you for sharing your experiences I appreciate the fact that you have taught us lessons and shared many great stories.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on February 17, 2021:

I was just reading today about the Carnegie family, Andrew and his brother, who believed in "Social Darwinism", meaning the rich deserve their riches because they are superior human beings. And the poor deserved what they got, so to speak. I'm assuming your father did not subscribe to that theory.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2021:

The Great Depression must have been a horrible time. Thanks for sharing more information about your father, Bill. He sounds like an interesting person.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on February 17, 2021:

Your dad is ever with you. It has always been my wish that I could have spoken to my dad as a teen or growing up adult to gain some of his wisdom.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 17, 2021:

Your dad was a wise man Bill, and you keep passing that wisdom along through your writing. We all appreciate it. Most of us had wise parents, we don’t always realise that until we are adults ourselves.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 17, 2021:

Bill, your Dad isn't gone He lives on in you--in your work ethic, in your compassion, in your kindness.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 17, 2021:

My mother and father used that phrase often when we were growing up. And now, I often hear my self stating the same words. Funny how certain things stay with us and become a part of our persona. Your father was a great man. Have a great week, Bill.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on February 17, 2021:

"getting up early enough to stand in bread lines before the bread supply ran out" - Ya, I was born into that in the late 70's, not the 1920s. Life's interesting, huh? Your dad and I had some similar experiences, I would say.

“failure is simply a lack of character.”- But that's the brilliant myth! It's your fault if You are poor. Somehow, taxes, job opportunities, education, location and many other things, have no effect on one's wealth. Tax-cuts for the rich - peanuts for the poor but yet, it's the poor people's fault for being poor. People have been drilled that lie over and over and over, until they believed it. That's why many look up to Trump. It's pure brain-washing.

"My father only knew one way out of “the outhouse of life,” and that was to work harder" - This line reminded me of Jurgis, from Upton Sinclaire's "The Jungle". That's what Jurgis thought too: I will just work harder. And he did, like a mule. What an amazing book that is ... explains everything so well.

"If one job wasn’t enough for the money his family needed, by God he would work two" - Jurgis did that too.

"It is unforgiveable and, quite frankly obscene, that corporations make ungodly profits while so many have to work two jobs simply to pay for rent and food." - People are freezing to death in Texas as we speak because energy companies did not have their equipment prepared for de-icing. That would have cost more money and would have meant less profit. So, people can just freeze. Who cares as long as billionaires can make more billions? It's profit that matters.

"No, I am not a socialist, and I resent anyone saying such a thing" - I'm that bad, You think? lol

"he did believe in a level playing field" - That's what socialism does: it provides opportunities and services for everyone, not just the rich. One thing the dictatorship I grew-up in did right, just like Cuba mind You, is that education was free and good: for everyone too. American can learn a thing or two. After-all, "even a broken clock is right twice a day".

"if millions of people did the same, maybe we could take a bite out of poverty." - Aho! (it's an affirmative answer for the First Nations here)

Thanks for this writing - quite important right now. We'll keep at it.


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 17, 2021:

It sounds like our parents were very much alike in their experiences. I was taught to work as well, and I always did. I remember my dad working 2 jobs near Christmas so we could have a nice Christmas.

Your dad is an inspiration as he sounds like a wonderful father. Happy Wednesday to you, Bill!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

That is very kind of you, Rosina! Thank you for your kind words, and Happy Wednesday to you. Stay safe!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

We did have the best, Nell, and I will forever be grateful for that. I hate to think of how I would have turned out without his voice echoing in my head.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

Thank you Dora! You would have liked him, and he would have liked you. It's a shame he died so young.

Rosina S Khan on February 17, 2021:

Bill, your Dad was a hardworking and disciplined man and all the same he helped out those in need. You want to teach these values to everyone around you. That's a good start because your readers are eager to learn from you otherwise they wouldn't be in this space.

Happy Wednesday and also the rest of the week.

Nell Rose from England on February 17, 2021:

Bill your father sounds like he was an amazing man. Many kids today could learn a lesson from him, and others like him. So much whining, poor me, and so on today. even idiots trying to deny a pandemic with a sneer on their faces. What mentality they have must be very little. You take after your father, and I take after mine too. We had the best.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 17, 2021:

Bill, your father lives on in you: in your kindness, in your willingness to share; in your straightforward goodness. Folks like him deserves to be remembered for their diligence, determination and wise decisions. Thanks for inspiring us with his story.

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