Sunday, July 22, 2012

Surviving Hard Times

You do not have to go far to find the desperation of those impacted by these hard times.

I saw the neat little motor home come slowly down our hill past our barn. A sign my father lettered twenty years ago when we bought our place says The Bath House, Circa 1880. The bath house refers to our cottage which sits at the back of the barn. Actually it was the barn that was built in 1880 and the bath house added during the 1930s, but we did not know that at the time my father made the sign. What we did know was that before it was a cottage that part of the building had been a Finnish bath house and thought the name was appropriate and never bothered to change the sign, especially since you cannot actually see the cottage from the road. Our pink barn does get attention so I assumed the driver of the motor home was having a gander and went about my yard work while a friend installed new gates.

When I looked up a bit later I saw an elderly gentleman coming toward me and realized that the motor home was parked by the hedge that borders our backyard. He was dressed in clean khaki pants and polo shirt, smiled and handed me a card that announced that he is a detectorist. I believe that is a made up name for a treasure hunter. In his thick Boston accent he explained that he is living on Social Security and making ends meet by looking for old coins around old buildings. He had had a stroke in 1996, but this was something he did to supplement his income and would I mind if he attempted to detect coins around our barn and bath house. He showed me his identification and except for his missing lower front teeth and his physical limitations due to the stroke, he appeared like a gentleman who my father might have run into on the golf course. Because of our own struggles with the economy and because he seemed nice, I let him look.

That same day I mentioned to my gate-installing friend that Dave had left before getting rid of a broken dryer in our barn that was definitely in the way and asked if he knew of someone I could hire to take it to the dump. He said not only did he know someone, but this man would do it for nothing because he, too, was struggling with the economy although employed and recycled metal to supplement his income. Two days later a youngish man knocked on our front door as my daughter and I were finishing up our dinner. He apologized for calling so late, but said that he had heard that we had a dryer that we did not want. I was delighted to tell him to back his truck up in front of the barn. He thanked me profusely for the dryer and said that it would help his family during these hard times. I told him that Dave is working in Arizona because we, too, have been affected by the bad economic times and are we not on this earth to help each other. Besides, I was thrilled to have the room in the barn. We both ended a long day happy for our good fortune and for having helped each other.

Certainly 98% of us have been affected in some way by the 2008 stock market crash and accompanying real estate crash. Our situation with Dave having to work 1,500 miles from our family, making us part of 3.5 million Americans, and the very real possibility that we will have to eventually walk away from our Gig Harbor house (another group I would rather not join) demonstrates the depth of this recession. Now with the draught in so much of the country, the price of food will undoubtedly go up since King Corn rules the food industry.

My father was born in 1922 and grew up during the Great Depression which he called Hard Times, the days of soup lines, the Dust Bowl, and the Joads. For nearly four years we have been living through a twenty-first century version of hard times. The poor are perhaps not as visible as they were during the Great Depression or maybe even during the Regan (who for some reason has reached sainthood in the Republican sphere) Era when I found people sleeping in their car in our carport in San Jose, CA, but you do not have to go far to find the desperation of those impacted by these hard times.

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