My great-grandmother’s family biography tells a dark story of extreme poverty and diseases that her three children barely survived. My paternal grandmother was born on a farm in rural Wisconsin in the middle of the Great Depression. Nineteen thirty-six, wrote my great-grandmother, was a ‘very hard year.’ All her children contracted ‘very hard cases’ of the measles. Then whooping cough – the deadliest childhood disease at the time. More children died from pertussis (whooping cough) in the 1930s than diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis or polio. It was a horrific scene, considering that during this time most parents (and grandparents) were also out of work and had to stand by and watch their children cough so severely that they vomited every morsel of food the family had managed to procure.
My grandmother, the youngest of the three, survived in part with a dose of shots from a local physician, though she had to re-learn how to walk.
It was a violent disease in an era marked by extreme violence. Nineteen thirty-six was a particularly dark year, and not just for America. The helplessness felt by all poor families was a microcosm of the conflict happening in nearly every corner of the world. In 1936, Adolf Hitler breaks the Treaty of Versailles. Chiang Kai-Shek declares war on Japan. Mussolini announces the official foundation of the New Roman Empire following the capture of Addis Ababa. Though African-American Jesse Owens sweeps the Berlin Olympics and humiliates Hitler, he faces prejudice and discrimination as a ‘welcome home’ to the United States.
Families that came through the Great Depression in rural American worked together. My great-grandparents survived by borrowing, hauling (trucking) milk to the creamery and selling eggs to other nearby families. They were also helped by the local church. Though my great-grandfather developed tuberculosis and later cancer, trucking got them on their feet in a time when virtually no one was hiring anywhere in the country. In time, they paid their mortgage and other debts. My grandmother eventually left the farm and eloped with my grandfather. Though she survived one of the most horrific diseases of her time, my grandmother lost her first child in 1955 shortly after he was born. She would suffer multiple miscarriages before my father was born in 1959, her only child.
What the family biography does not mention is that my grandmother would go on to run a daycare out of her home from the 1970s to 1983, and that her daycare operation would close after two families successfully sued her and the local county during the Satanic Panic heyday of the 1980s. It became a highly visible court case, but I had never heard a whisper of it from my parents.
I found the case by accident. I didn’t intend to discover a secret when I researched my family history and dug into the family’s biography. But what I did learn about the case created reverberations that I still feel today. The webs connected the case spun and spun to far-reaching places. It changed everything I thought I knew about my family and my past. I followed the webs. I gathered all the case files, my ideas for book chapters, and the history of the Satanic Panic and Daycare Hysteria and joined a historical memoir writing group. But I hedged. I couldn’t write a book that involved so many other players and then tell only my perspective.
This is how 1985 The Podcast was born. Inspired by historical, true crime, personal (Dear Sugar), and legal podcasts, like Serial, and later, 16 Shots, I wanted to engage my journalism degree and experience to tell this story. Then an opportunity came: last summer I traveled to Poland on a Fulbright-Hays Award to interview activists who were integral to the Black Protest Movement, and create an educational podcast for my gender studies courses interconnecting activism, history, women’s health, and politics. I loved every second of it. I knew then I wasn’t just passionate about podcasting, but that I loved the process of making them, and connecting the personal with the political, because the personal is always political.
I decided, too, that if 1985 The Podcast was to be successful, it needed a strong foundation, both financially and through buy-in from folks key to the story. This is why I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding ($8500 to be exact) and garner excitement. An artist friend re-created the daycare home as the illustration for the podcast, and we’re turning it into merchandise like posters and coffee mugs. I don’t know yet it the campaign will meet or exceed its goal by the end of November, but I do know that whether I gain funding or not, I will share this story, and I will love every second of it.