The View from Writers Roost
Sep 27, 2012 | 947 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

DESPITE ANY political leanings, one has to look at Social Security as the early recipients viewed it: ‘old age pension.’ And, that was a very positive gain for that generation.

American workers had begun, with impetus from labor union movements, to gain political and economic influence. However, that represented a still fairly small segment of laboring folks. Through that political and economic influence, some retirement benefit for the non-union masses gained significant enough support for the creation of what many call, for good or bad, the biggest social legislation in this country’s history — Social Security.

It, of course, involves a tax on payrolls, individual and corporate, with a deduction from the employee’s paycheck and a matching amount paid in to Social Security by the employer. Over time, both contributions have been raised with employer amounts increased more than the employees’ deduction.

Within my own family, I heard “old age pensions” discussed with great fervor. As people who made their living in areas of agriculture, there was no payroll deduction plan to fund pensions such as companies did where there were union shops.

It was likely that if you farmed and/or raised livestock, as did my paternal and maternal ancestors, you did that until you died because either there was no Social Security (early on) or you were independent as a self-employed farmer or rancher or any other form of retirement payments other than what you might be inclined and able to save. Usually that was little and most retirement plans were meager at best.

My maternal great-grandparents had about 50-60 acres. Great Grandpa Arthur Thompson fell out of a hayloft when he was 20 and injured his spine. He managed to shuffle through a few chores until the vagaries of age added to the debilitation of his limbs from the spinal damage and reduced most physical contribution he could make to the support of Great Grandma Ann and himself.

They still managed to meet many of their basic needs through having milk cows, a handful of beef cattle, hogs and chickens and maybe one small cash crop a year plus a vegetable garden. They also bartered and traded for things for which they had no cash.

Their daughter, my maternal grandmother, Cora Thompson Thornton Mandeville, lost two husbands to death before she was 45. Necessity made her the operator of a small farm similar in size to her parents’ homestead. She was her own sole support until she was able to “draw the old age pension” 20 years later.

Grandmother Cora, in her parents’ latter years, daily walked the 10-mile round trip from her house to the Thompson home to assist with their chores in addition, of course, to doing her own. She owned a car (left to her by her second husband) but didn’t drive and, after keeping it stored for several years, sold it.

When she had to travel more than a few miles, she either drove her wagon, pulled by mule Kate and horse Dobbin, or my mother or one of us boys drove the family car to take her on her appointed rounds.

Did I mention that neither my grandmother nor my great grandparents had an ounce of fat on their bodies?

I’m not sure Grandpa and Grandma Thompson drew any Social Security but I think perhaps they did.

Upon their death less than a year apart, Mama Cora sold her parents’ home and land plus her own and bought a home “in town” (Teague). However, she was denied an “old age pension” because she had too much money in the bank. No regular income, just too much money and believe me, it wasn’t all that much. Finally, when she used most of her money and was all but destitute, she was able to draw an old age pension, Social Security.

And, I’m quite sure my great grandparents and my grandmother didn’t think the “old age pension” was too much money.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at

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