American Experience
video | transcript 1 2 3 4 5

Fear of the Poorhouse (3:38) - Transcript

Christopher Plummer (performance: James Tyrone, Long Day's Journey Into Night):
You said you realized what I'd been up against as a boy. The hell you do! How could you? You've had everything - nurses, schools, college, although you never stayed there. You've had food, clothing. Oh, I know you had a fling of hard work with your back and hands, a bit of being homeless and penniless in a foreign land, and I respect you for it. But it was a game of romance and adventure to you. It was play. So, don't start your damned atheist morbidness again! I don't care to hear it. What do you know of the value of a dollar? My father, when I was ten years old, deserted my mother and went back to Ireland to die. Which he did soon enough, and deserved to, and I hope he's roasting in hell. Oh no, there was no damned romance in our poverty. Twice we were evicted from that miserable hovel we called home, my mother's few sticks of furniture thrown out, into the street, my mother and sisters crying and I cried, too, though I tried hard not to, because I was the man of the family. At ten years old! No, there was no, no more school for me. I worked twelve hours a day in a machine shop, learning how to make files. A dirty barn of a place where rain dripped through the roof, where you roasted in summer, and there was no stove in the winter, and your hands got numb with cold, and the only light came through two small filthy windows and on grey days I'd had to sit bent over with my eyes almost touching the files in order to see! And you talk about work. You know what I got for that? Fifty cents a week. It's the truth. Fifty cents a week! And my poor mother scrubbed and washed for the Yanks by day, my older sister sold, my younger ones stayed at home to keep the house. We never had clothes enough to wear, nor enough food to eat. Well I remember one Thanksgiving, maybe it was Christmas, when some Yank in whose house mother had been scrubbing gave her a dollar extra for a present. On the way home she spent it all on food. I can remember her hugging and kissing us and saying, with tears of joy running down her tired face, "Glory be to God, for once in our lives we'll have enough for each of us!" A fine, brave, sweet woman. There's never been a finer nor a braver. Her one fear was that she'd get old and sick and die in a poorhouse. It was in those days I learnt to be a miser. A dollar was worth so much then. And when you've learned a lesson it's hard to unlearn it. Who's play is it?