Sunday, February 08, 2009

Future And Past

My new Mamapalooza entry, finally!

Mom and daughter talk about the economic plight, considering the future, recalling the past.


I am scared. I am worried. There, I admitted it.

As a child my mom told me about how life was when you only had one pair of worn shoes to last you all year. How they shared and handed down clothes. How there was normally not enough food to feed 4 children in her home and how her mom would stretch to make meals from nothing. After these stories, I would cry for my mom and the hardships she lived through. But these things made her the person she is today. She can make a meal out of nothing. Nothing goes to waste in this house. She shops bargains daily. She can dress quite smartly on her Goodwill purchases and always looks like a millions dollars while spending just a couple of bucks.

Maybe it because of my mom and my grandmother’s stories of the time, I have always been fascinated with the great depression and poverty. The sadness, the sacrifice, loss of dignity, and learning to make-do with what you had. Not longing for things you didn’t. It was all about survival. That is what it looked like to me and it seemed very depressing.

In my teens, early 20’s, even 30’s, I didn’t think much about it unless I stumbled across a PBS special on the depression or images from that time. Then about 10 years ago I started to have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t pinpoint what was worrying me and my husband always attributes any “bad feelings” I have as my total pessimism.

But we had too much. We had had it easy for too long. Things had been moving along too smoothly. We were primed for some horrible downturn. I thought it would be in the form of bird flu epidemic. Maybe a pandemic flu? A horrific earthquake?

Stories of CEO’s astronomic salaries while average Americans were just surviving. Enormous estates being built in the Hampton by hedge fund Wall Street types making millions and millions of dollars. Seeing MacMansions going up right here in our little Edmonds. Something wasn’t right. Things started to feel off-kilter. I started to worry.

And now here we are at the door of a possible second great depression. We are all worried about surviving. Watching our favorite gift stores close. Magazines full of stuff we don’t really need are failing and evaporating. Objects that made life fun but weren’t necessary for survival are given a second and third thought before purchasing them.

I was talking to my mom and a friend about this yesterday. We have disposable income. Enough money to buy junk from the Goodwill that I didn’t really need, that expensive wool scarf or a piece of Oaxacan art for our collection. Just stuff. Not necessary but makes life fun, makes collecting a part of my daily routine. We also touched on all things that are made with “planned obsolescence” in mind. Cars, refrigerators, freezers, computers, computer programs! I have a house full of computers that are considered “relics” but they work quite nicely for me. Only if the browsers, programs would jive with my operation system, all would be well. We have a compact CD player in the living room that had gone out … I spent an entire Saturday making phone calls trying to find ONE person who would fix this player. Surely, it was just the CD reader gone out? If we hadn’t bought it at that particular store, they wanted nothing to do with me. If I called a store that sold something similar they acted like I was from Mars. Most of the electronic repair places I called in Seattle had gone out of business. Finally! I found one operation willing to take on my little compact CD player. Of course, it will probably cost as much to fix as it would to replace the upgraded model I found on Amazon for $100. But I was determined not to throw this one in the trash and start over. But here lies the problem, as my husband was pointing out … it cost less to replace than fix and we will just get rid of the item and buy a new one!

Now not only will we not be buying that “stuff”, that fun “stuff” might very well disappear because there is no longer a market for it. All the unique items that I blog about; that I long to see or own might vanish from the decorating landscape because we are just trying to make enough money to put food on the table for our kids.

I noticed grocery store shelves seemed a little bare the other day. They weren’t empty but just less products. I wonder if they are stocking less. When I drive down streets I see more and more buildings closed up for business. It might be my imagination, but we “feel” poor right now. Not quite third-world, but everything has a dingy, dark feeling to it.

I especially worry about the world economy. The icing on this bad-tasting cake would be worldwide droughts, leading to food shortages. Everything turning into a struggle. Stock market plunging triple digits taking a back seat to trying to find water for our planet’s occupants.

Trying to keep my mind from sinking into a very dark place, I know it will be good for us to re-think our cushy lifestyles. Learn to really economize, re-use, make-do with what we have. We will still have the Internet if we can afford the cable fee. But maybe not cable TV, which would mean more time to paint, sew, draw and make things. Read! Walk more, slowly to enjoy little unseen treasures in nature normally overlooked. I think about these alternatives, as not to get depressed about what might not be available if things get really ugly. And that altered future doesn’t seem too bad, if I can afford my mortgage.

I mostly worry about my son, our kids. What will be out there for them? What will it all mean for them and their futures? Will this downturn be long lasting or will we struggle through it in a couple of years, wiping our brow and thinking “boy, that was a close-call”?

I worry, but hope I am just wallowing in the pessimism of which my husband always accuses me. I am scared, but not without an eye to a more realistic future.


What did it mean to grow up in the post-Depression era? Everyone was in the same situation. Most people had an extended family upon which to draw strength and equanimity. We shared, we worked together, we gardened, we sewed, we helped our neighbors and they helped us.

There were not so many temptations in the markets of the world at that time. When WWII came along, men left home, women stepped up and took up the slack. Americans were proud of being able to adjust to most any situation and remained steadfast. We endured rationing during the war years and it was always a prideful accomplishment to adapt an old recipe or come up with a new one – making something from nothing was a social activity, which drew accolades from our peers.

Since no one had “lots” perhaps deprivation was not so succulently felt, or at least one knew that you were not alone in your deprivation. We had our loved ones and we all knew it.

After the war, industrial development took off ways one could never have imagined and we started becoming soft, spoiled or cosseted by new consumer goods even some goods from abroad.

We have become accustomed to planned obsolescence (we never dreamed of a new car every year or so). We “fixed” everything from sewing machines (if we were fortunate enough to own one), we recycled old drapery into suitable garments, made-over Dad’s old suits for sons or grandsons, we grew flowers which we shared on May Day with friends or shut-in relatives – all with love and thoughtfulness.

One of my fond memories is of Aunt Zelna in California making us a longed-for chocolate meringue pie (using sorely rationed sugar), only to find out that it was “salt” instead of sugar, which was used, in this desired confection. My Aunt Alice had a drawer full of useful things, among which was a ball of string called “string to short to save.” Never did Aunt Alice pass by an abandoned or lost hat – her garage was full of such cast off items. She was the happiest woman alive when some enterprising manufacturer made small plastic covers for leftovers (akin to a shower cap). We saved everything because according to Aunt Erin, “if you get rid of it, you will need it the next day.” And that is the truth, which has proven itself to me over the years.

Yes, we will muddle through this morass for a while, until we truly realize how fortunate we are and that, no, we don’t NEED everything we think we do. We are Americans and we have a long history of doing what is right and proper – for all of us.

Oh, yes, don’t forget the “bacon grease pot” which was kept on top of the stove to season whatever came along. Once when visiting a childhood friend, I realized how “rich” they were when Snooks and I were fixing something in their kitchen when I spied a skillet nearly full of bacon grease – not even put into a jar or pot or whatever the lady of that house had available. In fact, when some enterprising marketer came up with a vessel marked with the word “Grease” everyone wanted that prized possession. So, yes, we will make it through this crisis just as we have in the past. Through hard work and dedication to our families, ourselves and our neighbors all over the world.


S'mee said...

The perfect post to turn cold feelings into something warm and comforting. Thank you both.

Abby Anderson said...

Dearest friends - thank you for sharing your thoughts. It's good to hear the fears and reassurances out loud.

Kim Carney said...

thank you dear friends, mom and I had fun today working this up ;)
ab -- love the new hair-do!

JonesMoore said...

Great post! Reminded me of the talks my mom and I used to have (when she was still on this earth). She, too, was a 'depression child'. It wasn't uncommon for the family meal to be a can of tuna. When I was a kid, she also had that can of bacon grease for seasoning...thanks for sharing the thoughts.

dee said...

I just loved this dialog. Your picture is wonderful as well.
We will get by and it will make us stronger. My Grandmother had not only a bacon grease jar but a duck fat jar as well-it's a wonder that any of us are still walking around....but...sigh, nothing makes home fries and eggs quite like bacon fat. As for cars-I drove my little MGB for 15 years and when something broke-you removed it and replaced it. I loved that car.

Grandma PMC said...

Growing up in the depression -I was born in '28- didn't seem that bad at the time - everybody was in the same boat. I remember going on my bike with 25 cents for a brick of ice cream - maybe twice during the heat of summer - but what a treat. In a lot of ways they were the good old days - and oft-times making do or revamping something brings pleasure. Enjoyed your column. Luvyall