In my last post I talked about my grandfather refusing assistance, as I prepare for his youngest daughter’s funeral mass tomorrow I’ll tell you the story she told me.

Antonio or “Tony the Barber” had a shop at the edge of the “Patch” the Italian section of the city.  During the depression times were very hard, it was hard for the fathers to come up with the money for a cut or a shave let alone a cut for their sons.  Antonio would often call a boy passing by who hadn’t had a haircut in a while into the shop for a free cut when he knew his parents couldn’t afford it and would be too proud to ask.

One day in the 1930’s  a person from the state came by, he was talking about some of the relief efforts being offered.  He said “Tony” could get free shoes for his five children.  Antonio declined.  He didn’t’ explain the garden he kept, the grapes he grew, the chicken and goats or the dandelions he had for greens, he didn’t talk about the hard work his children did after school, or his wife did during the day to keep the house.  Instead he simply said he would feed and clothe his own kids.

The man was astonished, saying Tony was robbing his children, Antonio raised his head holding the razor he was using to shave a customer saying they were HIS children and suggested his visitor should leave.

Antonio found himself in court, having been raised in Sicily and not being familiar with American law he suspected he would have to pay the judge for justice so he had two ten-dollar bills in his pocket that he had put aside for a rainy day and went to court.

In the court they stood before the judge and the man-made a complaint saying he had threatened him with his razor.  The judge being a sensible man listened to the story and asked Tony if he threatened him.  Antonio answered he the man had no business coming into his show and telling him how to support his children.  As for the razor, he was shaving a customer at the time and had his razor in his hands.  If he had not been in the middle of a shave he would have would have punched him and thrown him out.

The judge replied that if he had struck him there would have been a $10 fine.

My grandfather reached into his pocket, took one of those $10 bills that he worked so hard to earn, put in on the bench before the judge,  turned to the man standing next to him and decked him.

Antonio turned to the judge and said: “I have another $10”.  Times being different and men being men in those days the judge accepted the fine and closed the case, Antonio went back to his barber shop and supported his wife and children for the rest of his life without help or inquiries from the state.

That’s the story my mother told me when I was very young.  Maybe it’s true maybe it isn’t but I submit and suggest that if there were more Antonio’s in the country or more people who thought like him the nation would be a better place.

Ask Not What your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country

John F. Kennedy Jan 20th 1961

Woman #1: ‘I don’t need anyone’s help. My husband earns enough to take care of us.’

Woman #2: ‘When are you going to learn?’

USDA Spanish Language Novela 2012

It’s near the renewal time for some of my annual customers and I was visiting them along with a few new potential customers for the radio show in its third year yesterday.

Central Massachusetts is a tough place make it today. I’m expecting a really bad economy over the next few years with perhaps a small bump in the middle (you can’t outlaw the business cycle but you can screw it up royally) so going to business’ and asking them to commit money for advertising.

Over and over people told me of issues. I spoke to one business that talked about the same problem everyone has, a lot of customers who haven’t paid yet, because they can’t pay yet, orders they want to pay but have to wait for cash flow. One person told me of their various plans to cut their overhead to keep the business going.  A third told me he had to go over all his advertising before making a decision and a forth wanted to jump on but hadn’t paid himself in six months and needed to be sure the cash would be there.

In my 6 hours on the road yesterday, I heard many things,  but one phrase never came up: “I’m waiting to see what the government give me?”

That’s not to say some business’ aren’t counting on the government. During my travels two years ago I talked to a doctor who declined ads saying his practice was driven by the Spanish on assistance under Mass Health.

Remembering my grandfather born in Sicily who ended up in court during the depression over refusal to take assistance, I remarked how it must be tough for him since the people on assistance must only come when they are REALLY sick.

On the contrary, I was told, at the slightest sign of illness or soreness they and their children are there for the fullest possible treatment and diagnosis, paid by the state and for the doctor, billed TO the state.

As I left I was told anybody in the area who doesn’t gear his business toward people on welfare and food stamps is a fool because this is the future of my city.

How many business’ out there have made their business model in the same way? How many people have decided that this is the way they will carry on.

How long before some electronics store sells an iPAD for $5 and snacks for $600 or till a Wal-Mart lobbies the government to allow that EBT card to pay for that iPad because access to the internet is a human right?

Perhaps I’m a sucker for not going on disability and getting on food stamps. Maybe as the doctor suggested I’m a fool trying to build a business, going door to door and shaking the tip jar to pay the bills with my writing and reporting.

The USDA asks:  “When am I going to learn?”  the answer?  Not until I unlearn the lessons of my parents, grandparents and JFK that I hope to pass onto my sons.

When when the country recover?  When we unlearn the lessons of Ted Kennedy and re-learn the lessons of his older brother.