Three-and-a-half years ago we were stable and steadily growing. Then the economy tanked, so did my work, and we've been living by the skin of our teeth pretty much ever since. I know that so many of you have been in the same boat: all of us, floating along, furiously bailing out the vessel to keep it from totally sinking--even bailing out when the water is up to our chins and all we're really doing is moving water from the lake on our right side to the lake on our left. Sue recently wrote about the bankruptcy and foreclosure she went through, when it seemed like there wasn't much to be happy about, and the swells threatened to overtake.
I've been there: staring at the rapidly dwindling food storage, making meals out of the freezer, thankful for the wheelbarrow of free produce a neighbor left on her driveway. Spending an unemployment check on bags of flour and rice, confident that I could make bread instead of buying, knowing that rice will stretch and that cheap dried beans are even tastier than canned. We were blessed because my frugal childhood taught me how to cook delicious meals from scratch. Putting the electricity bill on the credit card. Letting the tires on the car go bald. Going without a car for weeks when we couldn't afford to repair it. Negotiating with the hospital. Feeling terrible guilt for taking the money grandma would give to the boys for their birthdays and recklessly blowing it to buy them things like food...and shoes. Taking the scraps of leather that Susan gave me and patching the boys' pants. Patching those pants a lot. Living the old pioneer creed: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Our grandparents were shaped by the Great Depression. Our children will be shaped by the Great Recession.
We're the lucky ones. We'll never starve because we have family that can help, if it gets really bad. We have a church that can help us if we need it. We have health insurance. We are educated. I can always work retail. The baby was a good nurser and we didn't have to buy formula; she was healthy and didn't need the doctor. All the kids were mostly healthy and I could duck the well-child visits with their serious co-pays. I can mend, cook, and let things go. Every time we got down to our last dollar, our last line of credit, some work would come and we'd be OK for a little bit. Each mortgage payment made felt like a victory. We made it on a wing and a prayer and a shoestring and a hundred other cliches. I stopped worrying, because it felt like I would worry myself to death. I learned to take a deep breath and trust that good things would happen.
Joe and I would laugh, "We're broke," I'd say.
"Yeah, but we're broke in this house."
"We're broke with (sometimes) two cars."
"We're broke with kids and a good family."
"We're broke with the lights on."
"We're broke with Internet."
"We're broke with insurance."
"We're broke and you went to Hawaii."
And it's true: I went on a Hawaiian vacation paid for by Disney, and our family had $40 in the bank for the rest of the month. I brought my food to eat on the flight so I wouldn't have to spend money in the airport and make it $30. Hawaii is the kind of miracles that kept happening and left us not feeling bereft, but loved (thanks, Rachael.) Feeling taken care of, knowing that the worst had happened: we'd lost our security, our family members had ill health, but we still had so much.
"We're broke and we have enough."
If there's one thing I learned, more than anything else, is that if you are grateful for the little that you have, if you thank Providence, or the God of your heart, you will find the happiness in the small things. I am grateful the TV I bought in 1995 still works. I am grateful for strangers who drop new furniture by the door. I'm grateful for friends who would pick up my check if we were out, refusing to let me pay. I am grateful for the work and the companies that hired me; they were generous and I have learned so much. I am grateful for Zoloft, for a pregnancy without complications, an easy delivery, and for not being pregnant anymore. I am grateful for mild summers and winters, and for warm sweaters. I am grateful that sometimes we could share with others (I cried when a check came in before Christmas, allowing us to give our children a modest holiday and pay for a few bags of food for the food bank.) I am grateful for friends who make me laugh until it hurts, letting my burdens lie easily on their shoulders. I am grateful for neighbors who understand when we can't fix the mower. I am grateful for a thousand and one mercies I have experienced in these years.
Every night we'd say a prayer to give thanks for our bounty, because even in our lack, it was bountiful.
I have been thinking about the Great Recession recently, since it feels like we may have turned a corner (if the Eurozone doesn't plummet...and let's not go there.) Would you do your grandchildren a favor and write down what the past five years have been like for you and your family?
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Posted by Carina at 6/13/2012 05:00:00 AM