The people's voice of reason

Bread Lines - Grapes of Wrath 2.0

I was recently awakened early one morning at 4:00 am with a horrific dream about America. When we were having coffee, I told my wife about the dream, which shook me to the core. The first thing that came to her mind was the New Testament scripture found in Acts 2:17 – “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” I guess now that I am 65 years old; I might qualify for this notion.

It was as though the light switch literally and figuratively had been flipped off in America. For some reason, we were away from the farm in North Central Alabama. The country in a split second lost its heartbeat, because there was no electricity and internet. In the dream we were stranded, you could not pump gas, check into a hotel, no access to my bank, could not make phone calls, restaurants could not cook, grocery stores lost refrigerated and frozen foods, no cash registers, traffic lights off and automobile wrecks at every intersection and the list goes on. Not a pandemic this time, but pandemonium.

My father, W.O. Giles, Sr. was born in 1911. He lived through the Great Depression, which started with the stock market crash in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. He told me all of my life about his experiences during the Depression of being hungry, stranded, and unable to come back home in Mississippi. He often talked about not being unable to find a job and standing in the long infamous “Soup Bread Lines” in Los Angeles, California. Free coffee and doughnuts for the unemployed scattered throughout the city. If you know his story, he later owned Hol N’ One Donut Company, and he always told me, that even during the Depression, those that had jobs may not be able to buy a Model T Ford, but they had a nickel in their pocket for coffee and a doughnut. He knew doughnuts were recession proof.

I have never been through a depression, but as an adult I have been through four recessions. My first was the recession induced by the gas shortage in 1973, where gasoline was rationed. The next one was from 1979 – 1982 where interest rates soared to 20%, out of control inflation and we came very close to losing our family business, Giles Enterprises. My next excursion was the bank and mortgage crisis, which began in 2007. Guess who started a commercial and residential real estate mortgage company in January of 2007? I will give you a hint, the name of the company was Giles Building & Loan. In all three of these situations, I was forced to put my paycheck in the drawer in order to meet payroll and other obligations. Now we are in a worldwide recession induced by the COVID-19 virus. So this is my 4th recession, but this time I happened to be employed by a bank, which has been defined as an essential business. We have been feverishly working to help small businesses stay alive in this environment.

During this time of our national weakening, there is a movie I would suggest all families watch together, “The Grapes of Wrath.” This is a movie based off the novel written by John Steinbeck in 1939. The theme is based on the “Dust Bowl” soil erosion that drove mid-western family farms out of business and they fled to California looking for agricultural work. The name given to those fleeing Oklahoma was “The Oakies” and they became nothing more than serfs and slave labor. Poverty struck at the heart of our nation during this Depression. Our young people today need to be acquainted with these gripping hardships just a short eight decades ago. As we have globally witnessed this COVID-19 destroy the economy, “The Grapes of Wrath 2.0” could happen in this country.

Years ago in Montgomery, a very kind and sweet Catholic Priest who faithfully prayed at the abortion clinics, ran an inner city soup kitchen and gave my wife Deborah a pencil drawing of “The Christ of the Breadlines.” The drawing is taken from a woodcarving created by Fritz Eichenburg in 1951. As a child, this priest was raised in an orphanage and knew firsthand what it was like to go to bed hungry. I chose this sobering sketch for this article, because the gravity embedded in this pictorial, communicates volumes, almost incomprehensible, let me explain.

The most obvious message in this drawing is we should see that face of Jesus in those hurting in the bread line. Personally going through 4 recessions and all of us seeing our volatility to an economic situation turning on a dime, we could very easily been standing in one of those bread lines. If you interviewed those in the line they come from all walks of life, many accomplished and affluent that lost it all in one breath. In this line, there is grief, heartbreak, low self-worth, visionless, homeless, abandonment, heaviness and consumed by the dark clouds of failure.

Some recently received a stimulus check, have gas in the car, food in the refrigerator, bills paid, but have not witnessed the lines of suffering. If you are not in the line, try to have a renewed compassion for the downtrodden, see “Christ of the Breadlines.” If you are in that line of despair, you will see him in the line with you every step of the way. With him in your line, there is hope for tomorrow.

Let’s not be found like the rich man in Luke 19:31, dressed in fine linen, daily stepping over and ignoring the beggar at his gate, named Lazarus. The day came when both men died, Lazarus ascended and the rich man went to hell. The rich man looking up into the heavens saw Lazarus, the beggar next to Abraham. The rich man begged Abraham to allow Lazarus to dip his finger into water and cool his tongue. It was a little late for the rich man to amend his ways.

We all need to pause, hit the rest button, absorb the pictures of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Christ in the Breadline.”

If that switch is flipped off, who wins in the end, Lazarus or the rich man?


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