Clabe Wilson saved a clipping called “Why Is Gossip Harmful?”

“The fear of the tongue,” Willa Cather wrote, “that terror of little towns. . . .”

Clabe Wilson knew about it first hand.

Railroad officials had asked around Dexter about anyone seen spending time along the railway. It looked like something had been deliberately placed on the tracks to hinder the trains. Clabe Wilson’s name came up and he was questioned about it. He occasionally drank to meanness, but was honest to a fault, sometimes to his own detriment. 

But the suspicion stung. 

New Year’s Day 1935, Clabe trudged along the Rock Island tracks, shivering as he headed to the pumphouse, a part-time WPA job, brooding about being suspected of a misdeed. Was it common gossip around Dexter that he couldn’t find a real job? That he sometimes drank too much? Drab smoke drifted from chimneys into the weary winter as he plodded by each house. It was desolate and cold inside the little brick pumphouse, with nothing to do but keep the pump oiled. 

Being on welfare in the 1930s was called being “on the dole” or “on relief.” Families were ashamed to accept money and food paid for by other citizens. The Wilsons were in that somber predicament. 

Neighbors and teachers in this small town were appreciative and supportive of the family, but a few negative comments wormed their way back. Not only that but accepting government dole was a dreaded necessity. 

Clabe tucked a June 16, 1935, clipping into a small cloth-covered New Testament, “Why Is Gossip Harmful?” At the bottom he wrote in pencil “Look it up.” The Scripture noted was James 3:1-6, about the destruction the tongue can wage. 

Prince Albert was Clabe’s choice for pipe tobacco. This is his pipe and the small New Testament with the clipping still between the pages, “Why Is Gossip Harmful?”

There are several paragraphs, but Clabe had underlined part of this one: “A gossip is a public menace, and richly deserves to be muzzled; for a biting, dishonest human tongue can do more harm than the snapping jaws of a dog! A gossip can ruin your reputation, start a run on a bank, break up a church, make neighbors hate one another, shatter the happiness of a town. And no man is immune to the serpentlike flashing of a gossip’s tongue.”

Keeping a clipping like that says a lot about a man.



This became part of a chapter called “Gossip” in Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.


  1. Excellent message in this post! Clabe was prescient and knew the danger firsthand. Thanks for sharing this. It’s a reminder to all of us!

    • You’re right! I couldn’t find the quote, but Clabe wrote his Navy sons that one boy talked to him, now that his own father was on the dole. Another form of bullying, huh.

    • This, along with information from the deaths of both of his parents in the Clarinda State Hospital, help me to know what he was like. He dealt with chaos and mental health issues at home as a young adult a decade earlier.

      • I’m discovering that it was Clabe and Leora together. Their characters were forged during those early years into a marriage that withstood so much hardship during the Great Depression and such devastating losses during WWII. Grandma Leora survived another four decades beyond that and was a delightful grandma!

  2. So true about the hardship and devastating loss! How true also is the scripture verse about kind words…Proverbs 16:24: “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul, and healthy for the body.” Unkind words are the exact opposite, and cause so much pain.

  3. Very true words in that quoted material. I suspect most of us have been guilty of uttering harmful rumors and gossip. The Depression was so harmful in so many ways. Hard for people to maintain a sense of dignity.

    • My mother was a teenager during those days. People would give clothing to her and her younger sister. My mother would remake hers because she’d heard people mention whose dress someone poor was wearing. She didn’t want it recognizable!

  4. So glad I found your column this morning and picked this story to read.
    My parents were children during the depression which as my dad said “we didn’t know we were poor”. So much harder on the adults who had to be responsible and hopeful to keep going. Most of them were children during much better times, so hard to see things turn downhill. Hard times for sure.

    • Thank you for your note! My mother was a teenager during that time and was very aware, worrying about her four younger siblings. Their two older sons had joined the navy so they’d have enough to eat, something to do, and could shed home $5 for coal for heat and overalls for their little brothers. That’s why I wanted to write “Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.” It shows an intact family living in poverty in a small town, good times and bad. (All five sons served in WWII. Only two came home. “Leora’s Letters” is the WWII book.)

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