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Volume 16, Issue 29 - July 17 - July 23, 2008

The Right Stuff

Has the good life spoiled us?

While Jerusalem had only one Wailing Wall, in Wall Street every wall is wet with tears.


The above Great Depression words came to mind the past week when the front page of The Wall Street Journal was inundated by worrisome financial news. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were mired in deep doodoo; the federal government had seized the nation’s second largest bank, Indy Mac of California done in by bad loans; giant clothing chain retailer Steve & Barry’s had gone under.

As I passed a small group of old timers in the fruit and vegetable section of Lauer’s market, I overheard their assessments of the day’s news as they interpreted it from morning TV and The Sun. One aged man — wearing a cap indicating he had served in the Navy in World War II and thus was old enough to have lived in the Great Depression — was winding up the conversation with words to this effect:

We’ve all been through this before — recessions, depressions — and we’ve survived. We’ll do better than the younger ones. They haven’t been through many hardships, but they’ll learn like we had to learn. We’re better prepared in these days. It’s all part of life.

Liing Hard

His observations got me to thinking. Are we better prepared? People had spent more in the Roaring ’20s than they should have. Most had become accustomed to some of the better things of life, as is the situation today. But they hadn’t been on the freewheeling joy ride for 70 years or more. Methinks, today we are spoiled. Overall, life has been too good to us.

So good, I speculate whether we’re as prepared for hard times as were our parents and grandparents on Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed.

I was a couple months shy of three years of age when that happened, too young to realize that the world had changed. For the next dozen years or more, I was brought up in hard, hard times. I was too young to remember the brief good days before Wall Street tumbled; I had nothing which to compare living as we lived. I just assumed this was the way life was.

Gradually I came to realize that those in New England like the Burtons were better off than our counterparts in the Midwest and elsewhere. We didn’t have the Dust Bowl, so our fertile croplands weren’t being buried under wind-blown, worthless and barren sandy soil. Fertilizer and seed cost money, of which there was little, but we could eat.

Rarely did we see a whole family cramped in a vintage jalopy, all their earthly possessions stacked high and headed for somewhere, anywhere there were jobs. Our air was clean, not full of choking dust, and we were not dependent on FDR-dispatched railroad cars to bring water for livestock, as we heard was being done farther west.

I guess that’s how seven memorable words came about, words that folks of today find hard to believe possible: We were poor, but didn’t know it.

Living Easy

I’m no Chicken Little. I don’t for a moment think the sky is falling. In my 82 years, I’ve witnessed recessions, some were feared as buildups to depressions; wars including the big one; all kinds of calamities; civil unrest and such — and we’ve weathered them all. Much as we gripe about our government in times like this, it gives us a myriad of safeguards to lessen the impact of adversities. It takes time and patience for them all to fall into place.

What concerns this old man is, whether after a lifetime of basically good times, succeeding generations have the resolve and fiber to persevere if what now appears to be a big bump in the road turns out to be a significant pothole. In the Great Depression, most of us didn’t have telephones; today, disadvantaged is doing without a cell phone complete with camera, computer games, weather forecasts and the latest stock market prices.

Daily, more than a few belly up to the counter at Starbucks and order a fancy eye-opener that alone costs as much as a complete breakfast, coffee included, not many years back. I can remember when used coffee grounds were used again and possibly again for another hot cup.

Everyone in the family must have a car and not just something to get from here to there; a late model if not new. Walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation to lower energy use or save money? That’s inconvenient, degrading. I can recall days when a family felt blessed if it had one operable vehicle in the driveway and the cash to fill up the tank.

There’s this gotcha scenario among neighbors and friends concerning who can install in their homes the biggest and best television sets with screens so large that you have to be on the other side of the room to watch or play the games. Even in the energy crisis, the set is always on.

Deprive a youngster of computer games, DVDs, electric scooters, a personal TV set, Blackberry or some other form of instant communications, why you’re unfit to be a parent. We used to think an important part of growing up, maturing, was leaving kids with time on their hands to figure out for themselves how to devise toys, games and pastimes to their benefit.

Can We Tough It Out?

This could go on and on. We’ve become soft from too much of the good life. It’s so prevalent that we think of it not as a way of life, but the way of life. There’s no other way to go.

That’s why within this old man’s thoughts concern lingers for this country and its capability to ride out a bump in the road. Right now, insufficient energy is the culprit. When we get over that hump, ahead will be insufficient clean energy to thwart global warming. Will we learn before it’s too late the responsibilities and even the sacrifices that go along with living the good life? That’s the big question. Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.