Past makes present burn brighter

The dairyman stormed into the local paper and demanded to speak to the editor.
His tone was “brusque, belligerent” and after he was directed to the appropriate spot, the “short oldish man with a rural turn to his speech, leaned the [butts] of his hands on the desk, stuck out a grizzled chin, and lit into the editor.”
The man’s name was William Alger and he was my great-great-grandfather.
‘Light of battle.’ He’d marched his way downtown and leaned over the editor’s desk with “the light of battle glitter[ing] in his gray eyes.” He had an opinion and he was hell-bent on sharing it.
The year was 1935 and he was sick of President Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act. It was part of the New Deal in 1933 and, in an effort to lift agriculture out of the Depression, subsidies were being given to farmers.
The problem, Alger figured, was that this money was coming from the processors’ pockets.
My great-great-grandpa would have none of these handouts, and it was the main reason for this particular visit to the Evening Record in Ravenna, Ohio.
“Giving us the money that some other fellow is literally robbed of every time he buys a loaf of bread or a pound of pork chops. Why, I tell yuh, no self respecting farmer would take a darn cent of that money if he realized what he was doing,” he told that editor.
Fascination. My grandpa only recently pulled out these ancient clippings about my great-great-grandfather and shared them. He was a stranger to me; I’ve never met him or even heard his name, but I sat transfixed as I read these bits of my history.
I was, and still am, fascinated by this man. This man who was too stubborn to take the government’s money if he felt it was hurting someone else. This man who caused such a ruckus at the paper with his “monthly gripe calls” that they actually took him seriously and wrote article after article about him. This man who was my dear grandpa’s grandpa – my family.
Speaking for change. But then I sat back, sad.
He’d tried to make a difference. He’d thought by getting his angry, impassioned voice in the paper, something might change.
But that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in another article where he said, “It costs us four cents to produce a quart of milk, and [milk dealers] pay us two cents. Then they turn around and sell it to the city people for 10 cents. We just can’t afford to go on losing two cents on every quart of milk we produce.”
Sound familiar? Just adjust those numbers and that could be my dad instead.
“We farmers are gittin’ tired,” Alger continued, “of lettin’ our farms and homes go unpainted, and our machinery get run down and dilapidated in order to make those 165 Cleveland milk dealers rich.”
For the sake of emphasis, he “smacked a gnarled fist into his palm.”
The link. After I read these words, something clicked in my mind. This work-worn, feisty great-great-grandpa of mine was trekking down to the local paper each month not to make a scene, but to make sure farmers knew what was going on, to make sure the community knew what was going on. That’s what I’m doing, too … right here at Farm and Dairy.
He was talking about subsidies, milk prices, new legislation, government programs. I’d like to think he’d be pretty happy to know his great-great-granddaughter is covering those same issues 70 years later.
Suddenly, my job seems more important than ever. I want to make this man I’ve never met, and never will meet, proud.
True to form. He’s already made me proud, though.
From the moment I began reading his fiery words, both the family tie and the agriculture link had me hooked, but he finally won me over as a reporter when I came to this:
After he was done with his ranting and ready to leave one particular day, the reporter asked if he could take a picture to go along with the article, but “Alger shied like a wary horse.”
He said: “No sir. I don’t want no limelight.”
But apparently the reporter’s skepticism showed. If this man will come down to the paper and assert his opinions, why won’t he let us snap a picture? What’s he have to hide? I’d wonder the same thing if this man burst into my own office.
But Alger didn’t let them, or me, down.
“Alright, I’m not afraid to defend my views. You can take my picture on one condition: Don’t you dare mis-quote me.”
Now that makes me proud.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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