In the depths of the Depression, my stepfather owned, by the skin of his teeth, two small houses, side-by-side, at the eastern edge of a small town in Illinois. They were pitiful--hardly habitable, far beyond the reach of the town's sewers and pavements. The battle to keep ourselves warm and clean was unending. Summer was a time of desperately intensive gardening, of harvesting, canning, preserving, in order to eat during the winter.
We lived in the larger house. There was heat only in the kitchen and the "front room." Seven people shared three bedrooms and an outdoor privy. I would have bet you, on a cold winter night, that the privy was 100 yards from the back door. The coal shed was out there, too.
My stepfather finally succeeded in evicting non-paying tenants from the other house--$10 a month for three small rooms and a garden patch! The next tenants were a minister, his wife, and three small children. The reverend managed to scrape up $20--first and last month's. First and last indeed, my stepfather said, for he never paid another cent in two years.
He preached, he evangelized, he sang, he spoke in tongues, he passed the plate, in a curious wooden structure in the middle of town. What its intended use had been, I cannot guess, but its sides--its walls--could be raised outward in warm weather, and propped up, much like awnings. His small flock would gather three times a week to sing, pray, shout and dance and wait for the second coming. When the "awnings" were up, townspeople would come to stand outside and watch the "show." My mother was caught up in all this. She was, I thought, the best singer, the best dancer, and spoke in tongues the most convincingly.