I grew up in what many would call a “poor” household. My mom and dad made sure that I never wanted for anything but there were things that we just didn’t have that others did have. I can remember getting five pairs of jeans and a set of nice clothes at the beginning of the school year and that was my wardrobe for the entire year. I so wanted Levis but my mom always bought wither Tuf-Nut or Sears Rawhide jeans because they had the reinforced knees that could stand up to the rigors of elementary school recess without ripping the first day.
I always wanted the Tuf-Nut jeans because they came with a pocket knife.
I can remember the first television that we had – it was a General Electric 19 inch black and white set from the 1965 Sears catalog. Even though we could get four channels – only three had reliable reception – WREG (CBS out of Memphis), WTVA (NBC out of Tupelo) and WMC (NBC out of Memphis). If we turned the antenna a bit when the weather was clear, we could get fuzzy reception of WHBQ, the ABC affiliate in Memphis.
The day my dad raised the antenna and those magical pictures appeared I thought it was quite possible that I had died and gone to heaven.
The second major event that I remember vividly was the day that our set of World Book encyclopedias came. That would have been in the spring of 1968. I was amazed by the knowledge and facts contained in those books. As you can imagine, with three channels of TV, two of which were the same except for the local news, there wasn’t a great variety of programming – and this is going to sound really nerdy – but I read that set of encyclopedias from Volume 1 (the “A”) all the way to Volume 20 (WXY and Z – not a lot going on at the end of the alphabet).
Beginning at the age of eight, my world was expanding rapidly. For a kid who was growing up on a farm with his nearest playmate about a mile away, those winter nights when it was dark by 6 pm were times to see beyond my chores and schoolwork. I consumed every bit of knowledge that I could. At the end of my third grade year in 1969, we all took writing, reading and reading comprehension tests – my parents were amazed that I was writing and reading at the 12th grade level.
But I still didn’t know I was “poor”. I was happy. I had a window to the world in the wonderful invention of TV and a store of worldly knowledge at my fingertips in that set of World Book Encyclopedias.
However, as I began to socialize into the middle school years, I became aware that there were things that my friends had that I did not. They did things that I had not done. Their moms dropped them off at school; I rode a bus for an hour to get there. They played sports after school, I had chores to do. In my immaturity, I became envious. I began to resent my upbringing as undeserving of me. I can remember the first moment that I felt “poor”.
The fact of the matter was that I placed that label on myself because I was measuring my worth by superficial means…by things and situations. In my early teen years, I became resentful of my parents and my upbringing. Why couldn’t they do more, why didn’t we have more, didn’t they understand that we were poor? Why would they do this to me?
I made the mistake of venting this childish resentment and anger in the presence of my grandfather late one afternoon as I was helping him work on his tractor.
That was one of the first turning points in my life.
He quickly pointed out that I had never had a moment of hunger; I had never lacked warm clothes. I had never lacked for care when I was sick. He pointed out that my dad was building a business, that took a lot of time and everything he was doing was for me. He pointed out that my mom had quit her job on the upholstery line at a local furniture factory to take care of me and to make a nice home for me. He pointed out that my parents needed my help and that was why they depended on me to work after school to help the family.
He also pointed out that I had never felt unloved – that I had a strong family around me that focused on my progression so that I had the chance to do better than they did.
He told me that I because of them, I had the power to change my situation. He told me that instead of being envious, I should replace that envy with aspiration, that I should not resent my short family history, I should build upon what I was given and be thankful for it.
And that is exactly what I did. It was a hard lesson to learn at fourteen but the realization that came at that moment set in motion a series of events that I can now trace all the way back to that day. It would have been easy for my grandfather to ignore my resentment as a function of immaturity. It probably would have been far simpler for him to ignore it and hope that I grew out of it but in reflection, I think he knew that I was at a tipping point and I would either go through years of feeling sorry for myself or I would grow up and realize that I was free to change.
It strikes me that societies evolve with striking similarities to human life cycles. As the demographics and the cultures mature and fade, they are replaced by others at different stages of development and maturity. I would propose that we are currently the victims of a case of arrested development that started in the 60’s. Society has lived a carefree childhood where everything was free, every desire was catered to, there were no consequences and we got to eat ice cream for dinner.
My grandparents raised a family during the Great Depression, they knew what deprivation was. The Great Depression sobered the carefree and careless generation of the “Roaring Twenties”. This was a generation much like the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y who had never really known deprivation and hunger – but unlike today, they experienced the harshness and cruelty as a result of the end of those heady days. Since the Clinton era, our political class and a willing electorate has elected “liberal” Democrats and “compassionate conservatives” who were nothing more than “progressives”, just holdovers from the days of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party.
The primary purpose of these “progressives” was to give everybody what they wanted and keep adding to the credit card balance to be paid at some undetermined future date. A key feature of this masquerade party is delaying the pain and in doing so creating a false reality that the party is perpetual.
The only difference between the Great Depression and today is the charade that the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and the elite political class is executing. It’s a Ponzi scheme, the mother of all multi-level marketing enterprises. It only works as long as the music keeps playing but once a single entity stands up and proves that we have been playing with worthless Monopoly money all along, the music will stop. That is why any dissent is met with such vitriol today – the powers that be know that this house of cards will tumble with the slightest puff of wind. I fear that the more that our elitist rulers continue to put this crisis off, the more the pressure builds – it is as if they continue to compress a great spring.
To quote Reynolds’s Law – if something cannot go on forever, it won’t.
One thing that you must remember is that today, hard cash is a rarity. I have maybe $100 in my wallet and all the rest of my liquid assets are held in electronic form. All of my liquidity could be withheld from me very easily. This stands to make another banking crisis far more severe and far reaching than the bank failures in the late 1920’s.
My grandfather was the catalyst for me, I am left to wonder who or what will be the catalyst for America. I’m not hopeful that the spring can be released in a controlled manner. Will there be a crisis of unimaginable proportions exceeding the Great Depression? Will there be a truly great leader rise from the ashes of such a conflagration?