My Grandmother Knew Lizzie Borden
Marc Munroe Dion
My grandmother arrived in America eight years after many people say Lizzie Borden ax-murdered both her parents on Aug. 4, 1892. A tiny, illiterate woman who lived in America for 67 years and never learned to speak English, Delina Marie Dion was so ungrateful for her cotton mill job that she became a socialist. She sent four boys to World War II.
I still live in Fall River, Mass., where the murders occurred, a town twitching with heroin addiction, gang violence and a 12 percent unemployment rate.
In my grandmother's time, there was more work around, all of it available to 8-year-old children. Cotton mills were kept warm and humid, a perfect breeding ground for germs. Tuberculosis killed workers. Children died like kittens - one "mew" and gone. My grandmother lost seven children. The poor medicated their lives with whiskey and the Catholic Church.
The wealth of the city was gathered into the hands of a dozen Anglo-American families, all of them convinced their Catholic employees were idol-worshipping subhumans.
Lizzie Borden and others like her drew their wealth from semi-enslaved sharecroppers in the South who grew the cotton and the semi-enslaved Fall River mill hands who wove it into cloth.
When there was a layoff in the mills, my grandmother would walk into the richer section of the city, smugly called "The Highlands," and go door to door with a girlfriend, begging for domestic work.
My grandmother, who saw the Massachusetts legal system as a solid wall of English-speaking, Protestant bosses, died believing that Lizzie killed her parents and got off because no jury of bosses would convict and hang the daughter of a boss.
My grandmother died when I was 11. I liked to listen to her stories, told in the simple French people used to speak on the farms of northern Quebec.
As I get into the burnt-down end of my 50s, I'm one of the dwindling number of people who, if they didn't experience "free market capitalism," at least heard about it from the angry, sorrowful survivors.
If you've never heard an ex-sharecropper talk about giving one bale of every two to the "boss," or a pre-union coal miner talk about 14-hour, no-overtime shifts under the mountain, you can blab about the "free market" all you want and not know what the hell you're saying.
In the 1890s, the "free market" in Fall River, Mass., made 1,000 people out of 100,000 rich, so rich they couldn't be convicted of murder even if they killed their parents. Nearly everyone else was poor, their children's legs twisted with rickets, their lungs clotted and wheezy with lint they inhaled working weaving machines.
And my grandmother isn't here to tell it - but I am, and I will.
Wal-Mart the country into cringing, part-time subservience. Kill Social Security and the minimum wage and the unions.
Maybe you think you know what that'll get you.
But you don't.
My grandmother knew.
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