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Rent Parties

[Editor's Note: While I am on vacation, today's blog post is by guest author William Seebeck. I've known Bill for decades, going back to our time working together at Lexis-Nexis in Dayton, Ohio during the 1980's. Bill has a wealth of experience in online systems, banking, publishing, and public relations.]

By Bill Seebeck

When I was a young boy in the late 1950’s, we had a number of recessions. I can’t compare them to the one we’re experiencing today, but as they say, “When your friend is out of work it’s a recession and when you are out of work it’s a depression”.

Back in those days when a man lost his job, it was a true tragedy for the whole family, as in post-World War II America; generally the woman worked in the home caring for the children. The news of a job loss in my neighborhood on New York’s Staten Island spread quickly and quietly. So did the response. You’d see the parish priest visiting the home. "Father Anglin’s visiting the D. family, what do think is wrong?” You’d find out later that he was with the family offering whatever help the Church could extend, usually food, money or contacts for other jobs. To a young child, whatever was happening, it was serious business when the priest visited a home other than someone dying or the annual visit.

Yet, that was just the beginning of the neighborhood response. Most people back then rented their homes. They weren’t apartments but small houses. When people ran out of money and couldn’t pay the rent, their friends and neighbors would “throw” a rent party.

What’s a rent party?

Well for those that don’t know, it works this way. Neighbors would announce that there would be a party at the home of the family in need. As people had a great deal of pride and to save them any level of embarrassment, it was just a party. Everyone would bring food to the party, some would bring music and decorations, and they all would dress up. At the front door would be a basket and as each person came into the house, money would be dropped into that basket “for the rent”. The party would go all night and people would come and go, saying hello, dancing, singing, having a good time and filling the basket.

At the end of the night, the family in need would be left with food for the family, and money for the rent and other bills. They also were left in a joyous and uplifted mood, given hope by their friends and neighbors, enough hope to face the problems before them. They knew they were not alone.

Each day, we hear of more and more of our friends and neighbors losing their jobs, and some their homes. Let us reach out to them. Revive the rent parties! Let them know you care and they are not alone in their tribulations.

This is how we built America, caring for one another. In this time of great need, we can and must do it again.

© 2009 WBSeebeck


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John Taylor

Thank you for that Bill. Those of us at a "certain age" remember the rent parties and the outpouring of support, emotional, financial, and otherwise with fondness. Those were certainly gentler times and not too likely to return unfortunately. I do share in your sentiment though. I'm a firm believer in the human spirit. It seems that folks are so concerned about their own situation that it can be easy to forget the troubles of others, a forgivable oversight.

John Taylor


Your column brought back memories of when my Dad was very ill when I was a small child (in the early 60's) and it was a really scary time for us as a family.

Bill Seebeck

Thank you John and Janice. When I look back on those times one of the things I realized was that most of the men were World War II vets and it had only been 13 or 14 years since that war ended. In war, men time after time had to place their own lives in the hands of the person next to them no matter their rank in civilian life. After the war, that kind of care for one another continued. That great generation as Tom Brokaw called them. Why shouldn't we continue that legacy of care? Best, Bill


I think that is a very noble thought Bill.

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