By 1929… The economic collapse a.k.a. “The Great Depression” had reared its ugly head. That downturn did far more than reduce the U.S. economy to financial rubble. The societal stagnation was staggering. It put the lives of Americans on hold… inclusive of the two people who were to become my Mom and Dad.
By 1936… my folks-to-be had earned their degrees in education and were seeking public school teacher positions. But, with the economy gone bust, job opportunities were scarce. For those who could find work, the pay was lousy. Consequently, they had to put their careers on hold while waiting for the day when the economy would improve. In the meantime they found odd jobs to tide them over.
By 1947… the job situation did brighten a bit… they met each other… married… and started their family… but all that took place far later in life than normal. By the time I wound up entering this world, they were both 41 years old. In better economic times, they could’ve been grandparents by then.
By 1958… my earliest boyhood memories involved eating the cheapest cuts of bad tasting, gristly meat at our dinner table, my clothing’s patches having patches, and my family renting from a landlord slumlord whose house had a broken down, coal burning furnace… a patched together contraption, which could’ve easily carbon monoxide gassed us all to death.
And… re our unhealthy living conditions… I can see how hypertension is linked to poverty… it’s all that reaching for the saltshaker to mask the taste of unpalatable food. I also suspect the nausea and dizziness, which my family and I had experienced, was not influenza… a defective furnace flue would be the likely culprit.
By 1961… thanks to an FHA, 4% interest, 30-year mortgage, Mom, Dad, Sis and I got to move into our newly built three-bedroom ranch home… things were beginning to look up.
By 1967… teachers had won the right to bargain collectively. But they still had to go on strike to persuade the Board of Education members to pry open their hearts and the school district’s “wallet”. Had my Dad’s labor union failed, the American Dream would’ve remained something that ended each morning when our alarm clocks went off.
By 1975… when I walked through my college graduation day procession, my folks were in their early 60s and words such as “aging” and “ailing” did aptly describe them both.
With the intergenerational role reversal slowly but surely becoming the new reality, Mom and Dad were soon depending on me more and more. My choices were to either help them stay in their home sweet home… or run away from home. Since my soul has never been up for grabs (at any price) I stuck with them… to the very end.
By 1978… I had sacrificed my freedom to pursue employment consistent to my God given talents and college degree. To ensure I could stay close to home, I worked dead end, low wage retail jobs.
Eventually, my superiors did offer me a low-level management position. Of course, prior to accepting that promotion, I had to clearly spell out that I’d prioritize my family first… every time. They understood, which is not what one would normally expect from corporate big shots.
By 1988… Dad had overeaten and smoked himself into a diabetic, riddled with cancer condition and late, that year… into an early grave. Since he had been a chauvinist who insisted on doing all the driving… and my Mother had let her license expire / had gone along for that “ride”, she had to rely on me to do all the grocery shopping… to be her chauffeur. But… as we traveled down the road of life, some twists and turns had become inevitable.
By 2002… Mom had a heart attack. Roughly a year later she broke her femur. It was while convalescing in a nursing home, when pneumonia had asserted itself, and, in spite of her doctor’s best efforts, would not let her enter the road to recovery.
By 2003… Mom had passed through Earth’s Exit Signs. My final duty welcomed assignment was to write and deliver her eulogy. And once the curtains came down on her memorial service… there I sat all alone in the house that was now mine… doing something I had never, ever really done before… putting my needs at the top of my to do list.
In the days and weeks that followed, I came to the realization that while helping my parents… something else had been happening… something insidious. My friends, acquaintances, peers, business contacts and (last but not least) even some marriageable women had all slipped out of my life… perhaps forever.
By 2008… after three decade’s worth of retail’s heavy lifting / standing on my feet all day long … I had wrecked my body… all of that forcing my early retirement.
True, laparoscopic, outpatient surgery could fix the damage, but, in my lifetime, I’ve already been down that exact same road twice before… in other words… these surgical procedures had been, at best, only temporary… which means I could easily reinjure myself.
This does bring to mind the apt saying…
“Fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice shame on me.”
Folks there’s not even a contingency for being fooled three times… so I’ll just have to improvise and coin an addendum to that adage.
“Fool me thrice and that makes me the biggest fool who never hit the big time.”
By 2016… By 1929… everything has come full circle… I am now, actually living in my Mom and Dad’s Great Depression… facing down my bare bones existence and an uncertain future… just as they had done four score and seven years ago.