The temporary August nose-dive of the stock market sent chills down the spines of retirees whose life savings or retirement funds are tied up in stocks.
The scare especially registered with the few who may faintly remember the Great Depression of the 1930s.
I was a little boy during that era. I wear the experience proudly, as if it were a red badge of survival. Actually, my family survived with few if any scars, because on the farm we grew almost everything we needed. City folks especially felt the Depression’s pain. After her husband lost his job, my sister would send some of her children from Winston-Salem to spend summers with us because there was always plenty to eat.
There was limited help from the government. I do remember the time my father brought home a bag of free “government flour.” My mother met him at the front door and forbade him to bring it into the house. So for a while we ate cornbread instead of biscuits.
Believe it or not, man can live without luxuries. People of that generation rarely wallow in self-pity or rob banks because as kids they didn’t have a bicycle or skates or a Shirley Temple doll.
Instead of going off to a summer camp or the beach, we spent our summers under a blazing sun in the tobacco or cotton fields. And we believed deeply in education, primarily because school freed us from the endless chores at home.
But even though we were children at the time, we came away from that desperate chapter in U.S. history with a haunting fear that caused us to over-compensate in raising our own children. We struggled to make sure they didn’t do without. We feared going into debt and were devout believers in a “pay as you go.” We used credit cards with great caution.
A column by the late syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck, another Great Depression grad, addressed the Depression’s aftereffects:
“We told them (children) how we took eight years to pay off a secondhand shag rug, how we were married for five years before we owned a car. We made them sick that they missed the Depression,” she wrote. “I don’t want them to sell velvet pictures from door-to-door. I don’t want them to buy gasoline $2 at a time. I don’t want them to eat cold tacos from a doggy bag for breakfast.
“I don’t want them to sell their bicycles and records to pay the rent. I don’t want them to sleep cold and wear old.
“I want for them the birth without the pain. I want the pride without the loneliness. I want the success without the sacrifice,” she concluded.
While being hopeful that the August downturn was temporary, we need to remember the many among us who every day live Depression-era lives of poverty and neglect.
Please, not already!
I recently received an e-mail from a firm urging me to purchase our “stocking stuffers” early. At this point, the only things I’m stuffing in stockings are my two feet.
Readers are still commenting on my new column photo. One, Bill Pitchford, said he does not find the photo flattering, but to make me feel better, he pointed out that homely Abe Lincoln had a face to stop a clock.
When an opponent in a debate accused Lincoln of being two-faced, he responded, “Sir, if I had another face, do you think I would have this one on?”
I read in this paper that the state’s schoolteachers are getting a $750 bonus this year while an assistant football coach at UNC-Chapel Hill is paid $750,000 a year.
The message? Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be public school teachers in North Carolina. As soon as they are out of diapers, equip them with a football, shoulder pads and tackling dummies.