Friday, September 3, 2010

Hard Times

Times are tight all over. My older son Ben is looking for work again, having been recently laid off. I know of at least two high school classmates of his who are working three jobs each. My older brother just broke his leg in a freak accident and is out of commission (and work) for at least six to eight weeks. Someone else I know has a home in foreclosure, a chronic illness, and a soon-to-be ex who just left the country, leaving her and their nine year old son, who has his own medical problems, without insurance, without money, without support, without anything.

That last individual recently asked me to please set aside any "extra garden bounty" I might have as we would be seeing each other later in the week. So yesterday before meeting up with her, I picked some tomatoes from our wreck of a garden and even found a couple of red, ripe King of the North sweet peppers to add to the sack. There was a zucchini in the refrigerator - the last from my dad's garden - that my hand hovered over. We love zucchini. Then the bakery scene from A Little Princess, during which a hungry Sarah Crewe divides six hot rolls with a beggar child, came to mind:

Sarah took out three more buns and put them down…

"She is hungrier than I am," she said to herself. "She's starving." But her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. "I'm not starving," she said - and she put down the fifth.

The zucchini went into the bag.

My overwhelming social impression as we drove to and from Montana last month? Hard times. Call it what you want - a recession, the Great Recession, or (what I believe along with columnist Paul Krugman) possibly the Third Depression - the signs are evident everywhere. Empty houses, starting on our street and lining the route all the way to Helena and back. Empty storefronts to go with those empty houses. Signs for food pantries, even in towns of 150 or 200.

Increasingly, we are all impoverished. If not literally, then figuratively by the spreading poverty around us. Our piggybanks are worn and chipped. So are our spirits at times.

In the middle of opening wedding presents, Alise suddenly said, anguished, "we can't accept this gift from [a family member]. They can't afford to give us this." She bent her head down, it hurt so much. Her father, a wise and compassionate man, told her to appreciate the love behind the gift and to accept and use it in that spirit. Several times that morning, as other gifts were opened, he or Alise's mother quietly mentioned how certain family members had clearly dug deep into their pockets to gift the newlyweds.

I suspect the newlyweds, on their own shoestring budget, will never forget the love and hope woven into their presents.

Warren and I feel the pinch at times. We each have modest incomes. After he pays support from his and a monthly payment for back taxes comes out of mine, they are even more modest. I'm helping Sam tackle college in my own limited way (his father and Financial Aid are doing the bulk of it). There are always medical bills, and overdue (and uninsured) labs and an oncology appointment loom for me in October. Warren's truck just gave up the ghost after many, many, many, many miles, so there is a replacement in our future.

Warren recently said, as we drove home on a day that had already been too long and during which we had both been stretched too thin, that he wished things would ease up a bit for us. Me too. I worked on the household bills this morning - my income is still recovering from August - and I winced when I summed up the total and then looked at my checkbook. At least I have income with which to pay those bills. I am grateful for that, because there were times during my illness when I didn't have the money or means to pay. There are many around me who do not now.

Many months ago, when we were just starting our relationship, Warren wrote: "you probably aren't going to get Europe, diamonds, many expensive meals or lots of shoes." As I told Warren in response, I never cared for diamonds or shoes, and I can make my own great meals fairly inexpensively. I've seen Europe, albeit many years ago, and there are places in this country I want to see before ever returning. Fortunately, we each learned, separately and a long time ago, to make the most of what we have, including financially, and in that regard, as in so many other ways, we are very well suited.

When it comes to the hard times our nation, my community, and my friends and family are going through, my focus is small and local. I can't fix the Third Depression; I can only hope that thoughtful analysts like Krugman point the way for our otherwise entrenched and polarized politicians.

But I continue to chip away at the grassroots level, one zucchini at a time.


Sharon said...

Thanks for the wake-up call, April I know the state of America has been getting progressively worse, your post somehow made it real for me.

Actually, just last night my husband was talking to his sister about his family who all live in PA. His brother and sister-in-law will not be attending our wedding because of poor health and no money. My first reaction was to send money to have him come, but where do I stop? His Mom needed a refrigerator but would not purchase one because of my sister-in-law bought it for her...which was a huge stretch for her.

I hope Ben finds a job soon...and this economy gets better. We need some prosperity during these dark times.

April said...

Sharon, your comment was like a warm hug. Thank you.

I agree: we all need some prosperity. In the meantime, let's keep lighting candles to combat the dark. ("A candle loses nothing of its light by lighting another candle." James Keller)

I am the working poor. said...

Just catching up on all your wonderful writing. Glad you had a good trip, beautiful wedding stories. I miss letter writing! And this story really hit home.