Those Hard Times
Mama used to talk about hard times a lot. I didn’t pay much attention back then.
I had plenty to eat, a nice warm bed and a dog who came when I called him.
But I can remember. I can remember Mama watching me open my Christmas gifts as a child.
I didn’t get the air rifle or the expensive electric train I wanted one Christmas. Daddy was gone and Mama taught in a Georgia public school system in the ’50s. That’s why I didn’t get the air rifle or the expensive electric train I wanted.
I seem to remember what I got instead was a pair of skates and some underwear. I probably showed my disappointment.
Mama noticed and said, “Son, all we used to have when I was growing up was hard-candy Christmases.”
Mama grew up on a family budget that was based on what a few acres of red clay could produce. What the family didn’t eat, they sold or traded for other needs. A dozen fresh yard eggs for a bucket of syrup.
“All we got for Christmas,” Mama said, “was a few pieces of hard candy. Daddy just didn’t have the money for anything more.”
I can remember her talking with the other adults about the Great Depression, an Excedrin recession.
“Times were hard, but I guess we were lucky,” Mama would say. “We didn’t have any money, but we had some chickens and a cow, and Daddy was still able to grow a few things. At least we didn’t go hungry like a lot of other folks.”
Hard times. They come and they go. These are really the hardest times most of the people alive in this country today have ever known. My generation, the baby boomers, haven’t known any hard times before. I was able to pay for some of my college, but Mama saved shoe boxes full of ones and fives to help me get started.
Opportunities abounded when I graduated. I went to work for The Atlanta Journal for $150 a week in 1968, when I was 21. My mother made $120 a month teaching first grade in Senoia, Ga., in 1953.
Since I was 15, I’ve never been out of work, except when I chose to be out of work. I decided to devote all my energy to my tennis game back in 1974, so I quit my job at the Journal. No problem. I’d saved a few shekels and my wife worked for the apartment complex in which we lived. We got free rent. My forehand volley improved dramatically.
When I decided I’d never wind up on center court at Forest Hills, I went back to work. I had no problem finding another job. I got one at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1975, making $28,000 a year.
And I’m still one of the lucky ones. I’ve still got a job today. A lot of other people don’t, of course. Unemployment rates are up, to be sure, but we still can’t compare these hard times to those of our parents and grandparents.
We’re in a hole, but not nearly as deep a one as the country and its citizens have been in before.
What I’m wondering is, are we as strong and determined as our forebears were? They held up and held on and went through hell to get out of the deep well they were in.
Can we stick it out and remove ourselves from a comparative pothole?
Perhaps it’s easy for me to ask such questions. General Motors hasn’t laid me off. My employer hasn’t gone out of business.
But all of us have an example that was set by those who gave us life and reared us.
They blamed the politicians just like we’re doing. Damn Hoover. Do- nothing Bush.
They hurt. They cried. They despaired.
But they survived. And we can too.
It’s in our blood.