To those we leave behind
August 6, 2010
We buried my mother last week and in pausing to reflect on her life, I was awed by the changes that have occurred in this country during her 80 plus years of living.
It’s hard to imagine but my Mom lived for one-third of our country’s lifespan. She went from FDR to Obama, from Adolph Hitler to Osama bin Laden and from the Dionne quintuplets to the Octomom. She began her life just before the Depression and ended it during the worst economic times since then. She was alive when there was no Social Security to catch you when you fell, and unemployment and political corruption ran rampant in this country. Oh well, some things never change, I suppose.
My mother’s generation went from Shuffle Off to Buffalo to rap music. From Sinatra to Snoop Dogg. From Brother Can You Spare a Dime to four dollars for a cup of coffee. When Barbara Harding was born there were 123 million people living in this country of ours. Today there are more than 310 million.
When my Mom was born you could buy a double dipper ice cream cone for five cents, but you had to work two hours to make that nickel! The average yearly income was $600 and there was no such thing as overtime. I suppose my family lived below what government hacks would call the poverty level these days, but we never knew it. My Mom wanted to stay home and raise her three children but knew she had to support the family, so she created her own business, as a seamstress. She literally worked her fingers to the bone and, to the best of my knowledge, we never “went on the dole.”
At my mother’s wonderful funeral service the church was crawling with her beautiful great-grandchildren and I’ve thought about those kids a lot since then. We haven’t done right by them. When my mother was born the national debt was 27 billion dollars. Today it’s 13 trillion. Each person’s share of the national debt 80 years ago was about thirty bucks. Today my mom’s great-grandchildren, some who can’t even walk or talk yet, are already in hock for $42,700. Even that number will be wrong by the time you read it because our national debt is currently increasing by 4 billion a day. That’s more than the entire national debt was 80 years ago. If rents had gone up by the same percentage as our debt an apartment would cost $12,000 a month to rent and people would make $288,600 per year instead of one tenth of that. If food had risen as fast as our debt, milk would cost $192 per gallon, eggs would be $48 a dozen and lettuce would set you back $25 per head! I’d suggest either farmers and ranchers are making way too little or the bureaucrats way too much!
In my mom’s youth cars had names that sounded like members of a basketball team: Jewetts, Nashes, Whippets, Willy Knights and Rickenbackers. There were no Hondas or Toyotas. In 1934 you could buy a fully loaded Ford V8 for $615. If that car had risen in price as fast as our nation’s budget it would cost $727,000 today. Eighty years ago the yearly federal budget was three billion dollars. Today it is 3.55 trillion. That’s more than a thousand times as much! If houses had gone up by the same percentage the average house would cost nearly $4 million. Bread would cost $118 per loaf, butter would be $348 per pound and a pound of sirloin steak would be $212!
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My mom was really good at cleaning up messes; mostly mine, I admit. I know what she’d have done with the mess we face today. Metaphorically and literally she would have rolled up her sleeves and got to work. If no one was hiring she’d have created her own business. She’d have grown her own food and her own kids. She’d have paid her debts and created something of worth out of her own hard work and talents. She’d have turned off the TV, cooked her meals from scratch and spent more time with her grandkids and great grandkids. And she’d have done anything she could to make life better for them. Look at your own progeny and tell me that’s not work worth doing.