Studs Terkel on This American Life: Hard Times

Last Saturday, I happened to catch the repeat of This American Life on WBEZ; the last 30 minutes or so is a Studs Terkel piece that seemed particularly appropriate. Terkel died a few weeks ago, we’re in the midst of an economic downturn that ought to be described as a “freefall,” and we’ve just elected a mixed race, self-identified black man as our President.

The Terkel segment is a collection of pieces from his Hard Times radio series, with people talking about life in the Depression. There are some surprising revelations from a woman who realized that as a poor white migrant worker, she had far more in common with poor black people than she did with rich white people. I found myself thinking how far we’ve come, and how nearly we may be returning full circle if the economy keeps slipping.

And the whole thing set off all kinds of resonances and associations for me, as Mom was a Depression kid, and I remember her stories. The radio piece is a reminder of how resilient and graceful Americans can be under pressure.