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Oct 15

Blog Action Day: Poverty

The stories are the same everywhere, but for some reason, those from the southern states seem more prominent. Flatt and Scruggs sang, “Over the Hill to the Poor House”, a lament of an old man whose wife died, and who found shelter at the poor house, when is children rejected him. An earlier poem, “Over the Hill to the Poor-House” was written by Will Carleton about a poorhouse in Hillsdale county, Michigan.

In my genealogical research, one situation which was most certainly rooted in economics resonated on and on, and still affects me today. It occurred in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, not the south. The story starts when my grandfather died on 13 March 1931 at age 39. A simple death notice, which may have been printed in the Bennington Vermont, Banner reads:

DAVID HENRY HERRINGTON Native of Troy, had lived here during the past year.
David Henry Herrington, 39, died at 4:51 o’clock this morning at his home on County Street. Mr. Herrington had been seriously ill for more than a month and seized with a stroke today. Mr. Herrington was born March 21, 1892 in Troy. The son of Martin and Catherine Knapp Herrington of that city. He has lived in Bennington for more than a year and has been employed by H.O. Cole at the Hotel Bennington. Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Marjorie Helen Herrington, and by a step-son, Donald Hill. He is also survived by his mother, now a resident of Troy and by several brothers and sisters, also of Troy. Although funeral arrangements have not yet been completed, services will probably be held Sunday.

On 16 March 1931 the Banner printed under “Bennington Briefs”:

The funeral service of David Herrington was held Sunday after from his late home on County street. The bearers were Perry Murphy, William Ross, John Wilbur and Stephen Mack. Rev. C.M. Sturgess officiated and the body was placed in Park Lawn Vault.

Herrington was later buried in the family plot in Greenwich New York.

Marjorie Helen Herrington, 1926-2007, was my mother. Sometime after David’s death, Marjorie’s mother, Helen Palmer Hill Herrington, sent or placed her daughter in some foster care arrangement. The details are not clear, mother remembered little but a series of foster homes, places to live, sometimes to survive.

Two of the few photos which remain from my mother’s childhood, show different pictures of her life. This one is marked, Marge, 8 years. It would have been taken about 4 years after her mother gave her up, probably in 1934 or 1935.

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Mom did remember the name of the last woman with whom she lived, in Brooklyn, New York. Mom loved baseball, and told of skipping school to sneak in to Dodgers games. This photograph is obviously from that time of brownstones and city living, about 1938-1944. She remembered the address clearly, 256 Decater. The accompanying stories involved jump rope, roller skating and similar children’s activities.

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Mom also had many unhappy memories of her childhood. She was apparently passed around to a number of homes. She ran away numerous times, including from a boarding school. She felt that she didn’t fit in, or was somehow different most of her life. Her assessment of many of life’s situations were colored by that early abandonment. Questions like “Why did my mother leave me?” and “What’s wrong with me?”, “What did she look like?”, continued to haunt Mom her until her death last year. Mom couldn’t understand why she was “thrown away” when her brother continued to live with her mother. There is no more haunting thought of an abandoned child, or the memory of being one.

The plight of a widow in my grandmother’s situation is clearer for me today, than it every was for my mother. No income, no money for rent, for food, or even a gravestone for her husband. An extended family scratching by, not uncaring, but unable to help, Or alienation from family, for whatever reason. The living conditions of many families during the years of the Great Depression might shock even those of modest means today.

During the next few years, people are already comparing current economic problems with the Depression era. I hope society will find a way to care for it’s most precious resource, it’s children.