Sharon Astyk's post
today is basically about how in case the latest government fix doesn't stick, it might be good to look at what life was like say, during the Great Depression (~1929 - WWII). She has links to stories, even some audio accounts, plus some excerpts in her post. Which got me to thinking about my own family...
My father's family ended up having to sell or lose their home (I'm not sure which). I remember my dad saying that his father had to borrow money from him to pay for his mother's funeral... They sometimes stayed with a relative, more often in a boarding house and at least once in one of those work cabins (in Maine/NH area) for poor folks. My father was eventually old enough to join the army and served in occupied Japan, among other places. He sent back money to put his younger sister through school, because by then both parents were dead, and all their relatives were also in pretty dire straits during this time.
My mother's family managed to stay in an apartment. Her father died when she was only a few months old, so her mother had to raise her and her three brothers by herself. As soon as the oldest and next oldest brothers could, they were working after school to contribute. Her mother would also bring home all sorts of piecework -- putting buckles onto belts, shelling shrimp, whatever was available. In poorer times they would sometimes have sugar sandwiches or other similar cheap, unhealthy foods, to help stretch the budget.
My mother had a rounded, heart-shaped face so she didn't "look" thin enough to qualify for the milk program at school. At her tallest, she was 4'11" (now around 4' 7-1/2", because of scoliosis and bone and iron deficiencies).
Her mother came from China and didn't speak much English (her father was out and about in the world, and was bi-lingual -- a very enlightened and enterprising person, I wish I could have met him), so the kids had to help their mother to learn enough English to deal with going to department stores and such.
Of course, things would have been easier for them if her father's brother hadn't taken possession of the family's funds, only doling them out when her mother practically begged for money to help pay the rent, etc. (as a woman from China she didn't know this was wrong, and who in Chinatown would have come to her defense?). They lived in a two-bedroom apartment, with my mother sleeping on the sofa in the livingroom. In the hot summertime, people would sleep out on the fire escapes, as no one could afford fans.
For a little while, my mother's mother was a rice wine bootlegger, but a jealous neighbor ratted her out and she had to stop. When all 4 kids were old enough to work, life was easier of course, although never truly easy. But my mom definitely prided herself on being a hard worker -- when she was a cashier at one of the department stores, she was the fastest one at entering the prices :)
There are many stories of friends and families supporting one another during the Depression, but there are also many stories of abuse of trust and power from those days. My mother did the research as an adult, found the truth about the monies, and united her father's and uncle's families finally, in the 1980s. It wasn't about the money at this point of course, but about honor, face.
Both of my folks worked hard and were able (with help from the army in one case and from an older brother in the other) to go to college, and of course we kids had it a lot better than they did. But we haven't forgotten the stories. How could we? My mother instilled a particular way of thinking about shopping and purchases, of saving and creative work-arounds, such that even though none of us ever became too comfortable with having too much, or having to have the 'best'.
The newest computer in the apartment is 2-3 years old, and was bought by the company Lyle works for... none of the PCs currently in use were bought by us either -- all hand-me-downs, although we have purchased peripherals, upgraded memory, that sort of thing. My printer is probably one of the most expensive things we have in the tech dept, because it's a specialty art printer.
Of course we don't live as poorly as our folks did, but the stories, not just of the things they did to scrape by, but of the fun they had in different, creative ways, are good reminders that despite living in some pretty dark times, life went on. And not only did life go on, but neither of my folks lost their desire to serve and help others in whatever small ways they could.
It may be that the government and businesses and others will all work hard enough at the important things that hard times will not get as bad as they were back when my parents were growing up (yes, real estate sales are slightly up this quarter, but at lowered prices), and I certainly hope that we can work things out so all people who need help can get it, and that any hard times that come won't be long-lived. But I'll be working on saving and putting aside what I can, just in case it's needed -- whether by me or someone else. Because I do worry about a lot of folks I know, who don't have a comfortable buffer between them and any sort of serious emergency -- many folks in western MA have been living with hard times for years now, so we all do what we can to help... it's just that the help we can give isn't as much as is needed sometimes.
Save up, folks. Pay down your debts if you're able. Buy a bit of extra food when you go shopping, if something's on sale. If the economy holds steady, you have some extra food. If it doesn't, you have a small cushion against increasing costs.
Oh, and if you have in mind to order anything that's heavy, I'd advise getting it before June, as shipping costs are likely to go up this summer -- minimum purchase for free shipping has gone up at a couple of online stores I get art and office supplies from, and regular shipping costs have also been going up. Computers, printers, tents, all those great but heavy things...