The Census -3
I've started my job. It was a lot slower than I expected it to be, and I only went to about 20 houses. But I did it.
I thought I would talk you through my first experience, and then after that only tell you about things that were very different or interesting.
My first house was 216 3rd Ave NE, That's a few blocks from where we live at 119 2nd Street NE. Maybe it is easier if I explain how the grid street system works here. The center of town is on 1st Avenue and 1st Street. The streets run north and south, and the avenues east and west, with the odd numbers being on the left, and the even on the right. I live between first and second St, on the left hand side of the road. So the first house I was doing was one blocks north from me, and two blocks further east, and it was on the left side of the street.
It was a single occupancy house with a small garden, and looked very pleasant. A woman answered the door, and when I said who I was, she said, “I have been thinking somebody would be around one of these days. Please come in.”
She ushered me into the living room, but I explained that I had a lot of writing to do, so perhaps we could sit at a table in the kitchen or dining room. She looked a bit flustered, and I quickly realized that she had done a very good job of tidying the living room, where she expected we would sit, but had put a lot of the mess into the dining room . But she moved things off the table, and I sat down
and spread out my sheet – which is about 18 inches high and 30 inches wide, with lots of ruled lines on it. I had already filled in the basic information at the top – such as the ward number, and date, and who I was.
“I am new at doing this job, so maybe will take a bit longer than others might,” I said. “I hope that is all right with you.”
“Are you the head of the household?” I asked?
“No,” she replied. “That is my husband and he's at work. He gets home about 6 if you want to come back later.”
“No, that's fine,” I said, “I can take the information from you just as easily, and you can answer on his behalf as well. He will go first on my list. What's his name? And how old is he?”
“Benjamin Beach, and he's 48.”
“And your name is what?”
“Do you want my maiden name?”
“No, just the name you go by now.”
“Alma Beach, and I'm 48.”
“Does anyone else live with you – like children or boarders?”
“Just our daughter Vivian Beach, and she's 22 and not married. She's at work too.”
“I will get onto the work bit later. Being new to this, I sort of need to write in down in order the questions are asked.”
“If this is going to take awhile, perhaps you'd like a cup of coffee.”
“Thank you, but I musn't take too much time, so I think I will decline your kind offer. I just had coffee before I came out. But you get one if you want one.”
“No. I'm okay. I was just thinking about you. The weather is pretty nippy today. I expect you will need something to warm you up before too long.”
“Now, back to the questionnaire. I need to ask you about the property. Do you own it or rent it?”
“We own it, or rather we are in the process of paying off the mortgage. It will take another 20 years or so, I expect.”
“What did you pay for it?”
“I can't remember exactly. Benjamin does everything to do with money. I can ask him later, and let you know tomorrow.”
“Well, I can estimate it. How many bedrooms are there?”
“Two, although there is space in the basement for someone to sleep if we needed more.”
“And do you have indoor plumbing?”
“You mean do we have our bathroom inside. Certainly. You can go and see if you want. The bathroom is just down that way off the hallway between the bedrooms. And we have hot water too and gas heating.” She appeared to be quite upset by the implication that they might be too poor to have an inside bathroom.
“I don't mean to be rude. I think your house is lovely. But we were told that if we were estimating the cost of a house, we should do it on number of bedrooms, and the various utilities available, but I now know that your house must be worth at least the national average of $3000. So that's what I will put down.”
“What else do you need to know?” still a bit spikey, she was probably worried about how personal I was going to get.
“I have to fill in your race, but I don't need to ask about that. I can see that you're white, so I will put in a W. I expect that is the same for your husband?”
“Well, I never expected that you would assume that I was married to an Indian,” she said, again very upset by my questions.
“I don't assume anything, but I don't know as I can't see him or your daughter here at the moment.”
“I'll get a picture,” and she rushed back into the living room and came back with a photo
of their wedding. “See, he is white and we did get married properly before we had our daughter, as that is probably your next question.”
“No, I don't need to know that. The next bit is about your schooling. I need to ask if you or your husband or daughter was in education from March 1st, this year.”
“No, of course not. We are well and truly out of school age, as I would have thought you could have realized.”
“I need to know how many years of education you did have – first for your husband, then yourself and then your daughter.”
“Benjamin and I only got as far as the 8th grade. It was important that we got earning money in those days or helping in the house, and only a very few of our friends got to go on to high school. But Vivian has finished high school.”
“Can I ask where you were born. And your husband and daughter.”
“All of us in Minnesota.”
“And where were you living in 1935 – five years ago?”
“Now the questions are about work. Were your husband and daughter in work last week – specifically the week from the 24 to the 30th of March?”
“Yes, of course, they were.”
“And were you in work during that week?”
“You mean other than doing all the washing and ironing and cleaning and cooking and sewing
and mending and gardening and canning ?”
“Yes, I mean paid work.”
“Were you involved in any of the unpaid emergency work for the government, such as the WPA NYA or CCC?”
“I don't even know what those mean, but the answer is no.”
“Work Progress Administration and National Youth Administration are both aimed at providing jobs for the unemployed on public projects funded either by the federal or state or even local agencies. The CCC is the Civilian Conservation Corps which was set up for the unemployed, and to some extent for veterans and Indians, to give them work in the Conservation of Natural Resources.”
“The answer is still no.”
“I really don't mean to offend you, Mrs. Beach, but I have to ask these questions, even if I thought I knew the answers already. The form isn't saying you should be working – only asking if you were in work in some capacity. They also want to know if you were trying to get work during that week?”
“No, I was not, and won't be next week or the week after, of the month after, or the year after, thank you very much.”
I laughed, and said, “I think you have made your point. And might I say how lovely your house and garden look,” trying to get her into her good book again.
“One last question about work, and that is have you ever had paid employment?”
“So you could say that you spend your time doing unpaid housework.”
“Now comes the section about those who are employed, and the first question is how many hours did your husband and your daughter work last week?”
“He worked 48 and she worked 44.”
“What is your husband's occupation?”
“He's a buyer of produce.”
“And what about your daughter?”
“She works as a bookkeeper for a furniture company. Do you want to know the name?”
“No. Now again, a slightly odd question, but I need to know if your husband and daughter are salaried, or are paid by government work, or if they are self employed and are in fact employers themselves, or whether they work for nothing.”
“How stupid can you get? You must already know the answer. They are both salaried. And I expect now you want to know how much they earn, do you?” she said rather aggressively.
“Yes, I'm afraid I do.”
“What if I say it is none of your business?”
“I would have to come back and ask them directly. If they still refused to reply, I would have to refer the matter to my boss, who might come back and ask again.”
“Well, I will tell you this much. My daughter makes $60 a month. And my husband has never told me how much he makes, and I have never asked him.”
“Well, my husband also works as a buyer in the food industry – in meat, and he makes about $100 a month, so if you agree, I will put that down in pencil, and if your husband wants me to change it upwards or downwards, he can let me know.”
“Is this to find out if we've paid the right amount of tax?”
“This has nothing to do with tax, and these records will be kept secret for at least 70 years, so we will all be long dead when anyone outside the Census office sees anything that has been written here.”
“Have you finally finished?”
“One more question, and you might not know the answer to this one either. Does your husband have other sources of income as well as his paid job. For instance does he have any investments or property that he is renting, or something like that?”
“I don't know, but why don't you leave it blank, and when I ask him about his salary, I can check with him again. Why don't you pop in again tomorrow, and I will let you know what he has said.”
So I gathered up my papers and made a move for the door. I checked on my watch. I had arrived just after 10 and it was now quarter past 11. I certainly wasn't going to get my target number of entries today unless I made it much easier somehow.
“Well, thank you very much for your time, Mrs. Beach. I appreciate you helping with the form in this way. I again apologize if I offended you with any of the questions, but I am being paid to ask those specific questions, and I will get in trouble if I leave things blank. So I will call in tomorrow and you can tell me the answer to those last questions you are uncertain about. Good bye for now.”
And she shut the door so quickly on me, I could almost say slammed.
I was intending to tell you about others that I saw, but it will have to wait for another letter on another day, as I am absolutely bushed.
Love from your sister,