Looking Forward, Looking Back

Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm

I always get contemplative at this time of year.  I think we all go into the new year hoping for the best, making resolutions, looking for better days.  Most of us think, “If I could lose 20 pounds, my life would change for the better,” or “If I got a new job, everything would be great!”  We look back as well.  Remembering the bad times and the good, progress made or lost–I think of that Bruce Springsteen line, “One step forward, two steps back.”

A lot of us have had to face a new reality during the years of the Great Recession and afterward.  The old life is not coming back.  That job, that money, that ease of living, will not be ours again.  It’s the new normal, and unpleasant as it may be, we have to adjust.

Like most people in their 50s, I didn’t expect this.  But when I remember my parents, I see that it happened to them as well, for different reasons.

Daddy worked for several years for a government contractor driving ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) into the tunnels where they were stored after the warheads were assembled.  Yes, that’s really what my dad did for a living!  But when the Vietnam War came about, gradually the cold war lost emphasis, government spending for nuclear “defense” was cut–and Daddy was laid off.  His life was never the same.

He was reduced to doing hard physical labor, unloading trucks and carrying meat in to the commissary freezers at Ft. Campbell, KY when he was in his late 50s.  He had a heart attack and couldn’t do that job any more, so he drove a school bus.  All the while he was farming our small farm.  He died of his second heart attack not long after I graduated from college.

The good news in all this was, he loved the farm and was never happier than when he was feeding the cows or driving the tractor.  We managed to keep our house and the farm despite mortgages, and when Daddy died there was property to sell so Mother had something to live on.  It was never carefree or easy, but we had family and friends and fun.

So when I feel like whining I try to remember that this is a new cycle and I’ve been given a second chance to keep going, to make this life work.  And hopefully to have some fun along the way!


Bring Back “The Homecoming”

I’m making a pitch for resurrecting an older TV Christmas special, “The Homecoming.”  Do you remember it?  This is the special that became the basis for the series, “The Waltons.”

The great thing about the special was, it was darker, funnier and less heartwarming than the series became.  Viewers really saw the widespread poverty of the Depression and the desperation that drove their daddy to work many long miles away in order to bring home food and presents for that large family.

The mother was played by Patricia Neal.  She was harsh and loving, fearful and strong, less pretty, more rawboned and real than Michael Learned, who played the role in the series.

As these dark days of winter roll in and aftermath of the Great Recession refuses to go away, I find myself thinking about how my parents and grandparents endured poverty and hard, manual labor during the Great Depression, and how their lives did not change for the better until World War II brought factory work and higher-paying jobs.  I think how hard they worked so my sisters, brother and I could go to college and have more comfortable lives.

Things may not have always worked out as they hoped.  But I never had to hoe tobacco or eat biscuits and sawmill gravy for dinner because I couldn’t afford meat.  “The Homecoming” is a gem in its own right, but I love it all the more because it takes the viewer inside a world my parents knew–a world I hope I will never have to know personally.  Good night, John Boy!

Here’s a link to part of the special on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOlyKeEqEkg


Recessionista: Links and Recommendations

One of my dreams as a child was to be able to spend without worrying.  My parents grew up during the Great Depression, never went to college, and worked hard all their lives to support us kids and give us a better chance.  A big part of this was scrimping, saving and stretching as a way of life.  Another factor was debt, mortgaging the farm to pay for the current year’s crop.

I paid my own way through college and graduate school, and worked my way up to a comfortable life.  I’ve never been extravagant (although there are those who would argue with that statement), but I’ve enjoyed being able to eat out at will, buy what I wanted within reason, and pay off the bills every month.

Well, the Great Recession has put an end to all that.  I don’t mean to say this is as bad as Great Depression–there is no comparison.  But current days are a sad change from the good times we have all enjoyed in the past.  I have found a number of ways to keep some of the pleasures of affluence without spending much (or, in some cases, any) money.  Please share your recommendations!

  1. The public library.  My county has a wonderful library system, with books, DVDs, and music CDs, all for free.  My local library also has free lectures, musical performances of surprising quality, and other events.
  2. Through my library, access to Freegal, which lets you download music for free  http://www.freegalmusic.com/homes/aboutus  Your library pays for a certain amount of downloads up front for their cardholders, and they are available on a first-come-first-serve basis until the library quota is used up.
  3. www.paperbackswap.com This is a great way to get rid of books you don’t want any more and get books you do want to read.  All it costs you is the postage to send a book to the requestor.  Somehow I ended up with more books than I had originally (hmmm), but as a reading junkie, it helps feed my need.  And you can set up a wish list with automatic ordering!
  4. www.restaurant.com Eat. Drink. Save money (their tagline).  Users can buy coupons good for $25 or $50 at a subscribing restaurant for as little as $2.  Restrictions do apply.
  5. Tracking down free concerts and performances of other kinds through my local patch.com and organizations like the public library, Jazz Forum Arts (metro New York area), and the local newspapers.

I long to go back to my old, somewhat profligate ways.  Maybe that will happen soon.  But I intend to keep some of my newer, more frugal habits!

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