Commentary: When tough times meant 'putcher' on the dinner table

How many readers remember the condition of our economy 77 years ago? I recall our family gathering around our radio for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats.

A nationwide epidemic of poverty was tearing our nation apart. The president’s talks provided just enough confidence for us to hang in a while longer, while he performed his promised magic to give jobs and salaries to our unemployed thousands.

He was working with Congress on plans to prime the economic pump.

Country people know a dry pump will not produce a drop of water until the pump is primed. That means pouring a pint or so of water into the top of the pump to wet and swell the rubber gaskets.

Roosevelt would prime the economy with government (taxpayer) dollars. He formed the Works Progress Administration to build roads, bridges and buildings, and the Civilian Conservation Corps to put men to work building national parks and conserving forestry, and so much more.

A dinner of 'putcher'

His friendly radio visits bolstered our families confidence in our nation’s future, while in our lives we had just finished our evening supper of “putcher,” which was a soup of water, onions and potatoes. On other nights our middle-class supper consisted of pancakes and syrup.

It would be a few years before we would supplement the pancakes with ham, bacon or sausage.

Sometimes gaunt, hungry men would knock on our kitchen door and ask if we had some work they could do in return for a meal. We gave what we could.

We enjoyed the entertainment our radio offered. Some readers may remember the shows — "Amos ’n Andy," "The $64 Question" (this went big-time on TV as The $64,000 Question), "Fibber McGee and Molly," "Fred Allen’s Alley," "Jack Benny" and "The Shadow."

We received our radio news from Walter Winchell’s Sunday night broadcast and our daily news from the Kingston Freeman, a local newspaper in New York state.

'Brother, can you spare a dime?'

The popular song lyrics of the time reflected the sad state of the economy: ”I can’t give you anything but love, baby. That’s the only thing I have, baby,” “Got no money in the bank. Got no babies we can spank. What to do about it, let’s turn out the lights and go to sleep,” and “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

So FDR opened the U.S. government’s charge card and put men to work all over the country. He could have just given them welfare, but they were too proud to accept money they didn’t earn honestly.

Of course World War II came along and America’s industries went into full production, turning out billions of dollars — and then trillions — of war supplies for the world.

This while China and other nations eventually took over all of our profit-making, peace-time industries.

Dick De Witt is a Shelton resident who previously lived in Fairfield.