Far Past Our Father's Land: Stories from the Greater Depression

Sharon December 9th, 2008

The Horses
Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
‘They’ll molder away and be like other loam.’
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning. -Edwin Muir

Many of you will remember this poem from the Post-Apocalyptic Novel discussion in September.  I wanted to run it again for another reason – although it deserves to be run simply because it is such a lovely narrative. 

Aaron and I have been talking since last year about the need to do concerted, documentary work about the crisis that we’re presently facing.  As we think ahead to the days when current events are part of a narrative account, we have to face the fact that the stories of governments and policy setters are likely to overwhelm the most immediate and urgent experiences of the Long Emergency – we are likely to hear stories through official voices, while the quietest voices, the ones that hurt the most, and those who do the hardest ground work response, go unaccounted.  Oh, some of those stories will make it into the narrative as well, and someday our grandkids will come around and take histories of those days.  But the truest stories are the most immediate ones, as they happen.

In the first Great Depression, the WPA set writers and photographers to work capturing ordinary experiences, and writers and thinkers told the stories of the hard days behind them.  The results are the astounding photographs of Dorthea Lange, works like _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men_ by James Agee and Walker Evans, the collected accounts of thousands of writers.  And perhaps we will see an effort like that today.  But one of the consequences of relocalization, of a narrowing of our spaces and a reconnecting with localities mean that so many crises occur in distant places and so many solutions are being made in disparate locations, at the local level that it would be easy to miss both the stories of hardship and the ways people are trying to address this crisis.  More importantly, I think that most people do not yet view our present situation as of a piece, one unified crisis, drawing together the intertwined chains of our energy, ecological and economic situation.  Only those who see the whole can begin to document the whole.

Aaron and I conceived the idea of documenting our present disaster – economic, ecological, energy.  We wanted to tell stories from our neighborhoods and around the world.  But we can’t afford to travel around the world, can’t afford to go and see every tragedy, or every person struggling to hold back the tide.  So we need help.  We need your stories, and the stories of people you know.  We’re working on a website where people can post tales, photographs, suggestions for people we might actually travel to meet – places where times are particularly hard or places where there are particularly remarkable answers.  And if we can’t go, maybe some of you live near there – maybe you can snap pictures or talk to people or tell the story through your own eyes.  The wonder of the internet is that we may well be able to tell this story mostly from our own places.

We’re interested in everything from what it is like at your food pantry to how your neighbors are handling the threat of job losses.  We want to know what things look like i your world, what you are doing, and what those around you are doing to get by, or to improve things.

We hope to make a book out of it eventually, and perhaps some documentary videos as well.  We’re calling the book and project “Far Past Our Father’s Land” both because we believe that the land and our agricultural practices lie at the heart of the world’s present crisis, and because we believe that wherever this journey takes us, it will be far away from the things we know, the places that are as familiar as our world, our parents’ world.  We are headed both forward and back, into territory partly known and partly unknown.  It will be easier territory to navigate, or if not easier, more truthful, if we have each other’s stories as a guide.

I don’t want to wait to hear what you’ve seen until the website is ready.  So tell us your stories – what are you seeing in your daily life?  Are you struggling?  Do you know people who are?  What about solutions, support networks, acts of resistance and courage?  Tell us what you know that we should know!

In the introduction to “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” James Agee tells us that he doesn’t want to soothe us, that he expects the experience of reading to be like the experience of cranking up crashing music, and ramming your body against a speaker.   Doing so, he writes,

“You won’t hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.”

I’m no Agee, and my goals aren’t quite the same.  But I fear the loss of the truth as events turn to history.  And while it does hurt to know what is real, getting at the shape and substance of the present is work worth doing. 

Please, tell us what you see.

Sharon

62 Responses to “Far Past Our Father's Land: Stories from the Greater Depression”

  1. Sheri says:

    Well, its certainly something to look into. I will contact Syracuse and ask if they will do anything like that. Unfortunately, my daughter is only 19, but certainly where there is a will there is a way.

    Thanks

  2. Paula says:

    Hi from Wisconsin. We are “feeling the pain” here, as far as industries tapping their brakes.

    My husband’s employer informed them all that there will not be raises next fiscal year.

    My brother-in-law is probably biting his nails by now, since he works in adhesives at 3M. The local plant’s staff have been spared for now, but the company has dumped most of its temp workers. 3M cut over 1K jobs last month and announced 1,800 more cuts on Monday.

    Hutchinson Technology, in a nearby city, got rid of 1,000 workers-that’s 25 percent of its global workforce. The company makes disk drives. Now they don’t make so many . . . One of my old neighbors worked there.

    My stepdaughter is prepping for LOW (Laid-Off Work) at the local Wal-Mart distribution center. Most people on her shift will have hours cut in the next week.

    These stories are starting to repeat for many people around here. This area of the state has a lot of low-margin plastic manufacturing and auto industry supply manufacturing. Does not look good. In fact, our state is over 5 billion in-the-hole and I heard that Governor Doyle was heading to DC last week to beg for bailout money. One in 10 state jobs is unfilled currently, and the hiring freeze will continue.

    Wisconsin is still dairy country, but a new methane tax proposed by the EPA may very well pull the plug for any farmer left who does not have ties to some multi-faceted corporation. The proposal is a per-head tax on each animal. This should effectively put the rest of my family out of business.

  3. Tonia says:

    “I feel like I’m watching a train wreck in process that no one else around me perceives, and no one, even the friend who was just laid off, takes me seriously.”

    This is exactly how I feel. I talk to family and all I get is “what are you talking about”? My husband and I had a talk two days ago and I asked him what are we going to do if we do sink into a depression? He pointed out that we would be ok because we know how to survive. I reminded him that we would not survive long if we had to support his son-dil0-and 4 granddaughters. I told him that they have not done anything to prepare for what lays ahead of us. What are we going to do, turn our backs on them? How can we help them if it means loosing what we have? This frustrates me very much. They are the typical couple like the guy talked about in another post with the beans and oil. They have no clue but keep consuming and consuming not thinking about tomorrow. I mean today she just drove 200 miles (two separate trips) to a town 45 miles away. At what point does it sink in that you just don’t do that? She was there for a doctors appointment and then got home dumped the kids off with hubby to just go back again and buy 2 birthday presents for two kids birthday parties tomorrow. I told my SIL, “why couldn’t she use the dollar store in town or buy the kids a gift certificate from CVS”? This mentality just scares the heebie jeebie’s out of me!

    Now, I have been storing food for over a year now. I am an avid coupon junkie and I get most of the food I store for free or @ 60–75% off what the stores sell if for by using my coupons on deeply discounted loss leaders

  4. LRH says:

    Sheri,
    In case you come back to this thread like I did, I’d suggest letting your daughter take out all the loans, so you won’t risk losing your home. Like I commented about my daughter in med school, a degree/education cannot be repossessed by a lender and we will need these educated kids!! Has she considered switching to a state school or applying for a transfer to other schools that have bigger financial aid endowments to see what they would give her?

    Everyone else, thanks, I don’t feel quite so alone, given the number of people who connected with my “train wreck” comment.

    One way I started to fight the fear and occasionally rising panic was to learn to play a fiddle. Three years ago I found a teacher I hit if off with. I have never had any formal music lessons in my life. So I have been literally rewiring my brain, but arriving at a point where I can play with others is low tech and enormously rewarding. I have since discovered that there is a local music scene that operates largely below the radar, with open jams and house concerts. I also found a music camp I love that is attended mostly by adults and is like a family – Ashokan – which I will return to each year from now on, like many others who have been going there once a year for years, some since it’s very first summer week over 25 years ago. It is important to find ways to fight the despair.
    L.

  5. Kathyrae says:

    What do you do when your power wheelchair cannot be recharged when the electricity is turned off? Or how do you keep the ventilator working when power is cut suddenly and the sun has not shined for 2 days? How do you get to medical appointments, work or shop for food when public transportation has cutbacks?
    These are some of the questions I am asking as a clinician in a rehab setting for adults after delving into topics related to Peak Oil, the economic downward spiral, environmental depletion, etc.
    In this rural area, the prevailing attitude to our shifting lives seems to be one of indifference or apathy at its worst. To broach the subject of sustainable living within the community incites non-reaction! Yet, within our county the trend is consistent with the national reports of unemployment, non-profit organizations shutting down, food banks with little food, etc. Perhaps, fear of discussion opens the door to reality, and denial seems easier!! More education, on a large scale, is necessary to reach more people about the true essence of things to come. But everyone is plugged into a plethora of venues, and few into educational or informative ones.
    I, for one, believe in the human spirit and bonding in the midst of adversity, as I witness it daily in this setting. Those “without” can teach so much!!

  6. That Pioneering Spirit:
    Oregon City Walk Reveals Useful Mindset for Hard Times
    By John O. Andersen
    February 26, 2009

    A couple of days ago I was bored with the five or so suburban neighborhood routes I rotate for my morning walks. So, I decided with a carpet cleaning job that day in Oregon City, I would go early before rush hour, and do the 1.5 mile Oregon City McLoughlin Historic District walk.

    Remaining true to the ideal exploration pace, my stroll never exceeded one mile per hour. Slow is only way when you really want to notice details, and have the chance to chat with people you randomly encounter.

    For certain, my wife Mandy has been the primary influence in getting me to where I actually look closely, care about what I see, and ditch the macho habit of walking fast.

    Believe it or not, it has taken her nearly two decades to get me to this point.

    Oregon City is the end of the Oregon Trail. No strangers to hardship, Oregon Trail pioneers lived simply, and had few possessions. When they arrived in the Oregon Territory, they started over from scratch to build a new life.

    Today, in the wake of global economic collapse, we are similarly at a point where we must also start from scratch. We must rethink our expectations for the future.

    So far, few people seem to understand this. As the situation worsens, that will certainly change.

    The vastly different reality that now exists is a world of far less in terms of material abundance, yet far more in terms of potential community spirit.

    Unfortunately, instead of embracing this reality, we seem to be clinging to the familiar (now an unreality), making pathetic attempts, as James H. Kunstler often says, to “sustain the unsustainable;” for instance trying to save the automobile industry when we should be investing in mass transit and walkable communities; or rescuing petrochemical agribusiness when we should be promoting community supported agriculture, and food co-ops; or being pre-occupied with turf building and weed-free lawns when we should be altogether destroying them to make room for vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

    The good news is more and more people are catching on all of the time.

    This is not a recession that will rebound to business as usual. It’s not even a depression that will rebound to business as usual.

    Business as usual is history. There will be no rebound back to the growth economy.

    This is due to the geological imperative of Peak Oil, and the scientific fact of climate change.

    A happy future is in sustainable non-materialistic living within our means, learning practical skills, and in building strong family and community ties. Viable livelihoods will be vegetable gardening, building and maintaining shelter, repairing shoes, sewing clothes, plumbing, knitting–those sorts of things.

    Entertainment won’t be American Idol-esque mainstream TV shows so much anymore. It may be Billy the fiddler from down the street on Friday evenings at the neighborhood cafe. Community theater may be re-enshrined to its rightful place as the community conscience. Book reading may well make a comeback.

    ****

    The historic walk took me to the 130 foot high Oregon City Municipal elevator–one of just four municipal elevators in the entire world. The attendant told me on a typical weekday between 300 and 600 people use the elevator. That is a lot of pedestrians; a good thing.

    The elevator’s recent permanent wall art project “Elevations in Transition” juxtaposes through the technology of lenticular printing, historic photographs with contemporary views. As you walk the photo you see changes. The effect is to create a “ghosts of the past” feeling; a sense of something lost, and perhaps something gained with the passage of time.

    I could’ve spent an hour there just examining the photographs.

    ****

    Here in Oregon, we probably understand limits to growth as well as anywhere in the world. Our traditional industries of timber, fishing, and agriculture were all based on natural resource extraction. We hit a wall in the 20th century; limits to growth.

    As with Oregon, the entire globe has hit a wall in industrial production, and the entire concept of growth economics for that matter. All of the positive mental thinking in the world won’t change this fact, and can’t excuse us from obeying geologic and climate imperatives.

    I agree with Barack Obama that America will “restart the engine of our prosperity,” but the prosperity that results will not be the material kind to which we’re accustomed. Not even close.

    No, what I see in the future is a spiritual prosperity; a prosperity of wisdom; a prosperity of community. Like the custom among Native Americans, the richest in our emerging society will not be those who accumulate the most, but rather those who give away the most.

    And that is a great thing actually.

    Last evening, we attended a performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Even in this depression, we decided we would continue to subscribe to the theater. It may seem an extravagance, but at around only $200 a year for five quality evenings out, we’ll find a way to make it continue to happen.

    For us, the deeper benefit is the way theater promotes self-reflection.

    Oscar Wilde’s satire of Victorian England’s foolish emphasis on style over substance, prompted our reflection of American society’s similar folly during its 20th century gilded age (1965-2006).

    Examples abound, here are a few:

    Beaverton has a better sound than Tigard, doesn’t it? An address on Majestic Sequoia Way is infinitely better than the tacky sounding Why Worry Lane. And without perfectly straight teeth and regular whitening, you’ll never get a top-paying corporate job. A Lake Oswego address will put your kids in the “right” crowd, and help your daughter learn the skills necessary to become a successful trophy wife. And if you want to get into a top college, you’ll need to attend to life’s crucially important matters such as getting your Eagle Scout award, multiple varsity letters in sports, high SAT scores, a 3.8 gpa or higher, and regular highly visible photo-op community service.

    Style over substance indeed.

    ****

    I strolled alongside a medium-sized realty. From the window I could see many empty desks; perhaps a dozen. The desks were completely cleared and unused. It was similar to the cavernously empty scene I witnessed in a large title company office recently.

    ****

    Moreover, everywhere I go throughout the Portland Metro area, I see empty retail space to a degree I’ve never seen before in my life. My McMansion customers have largely gone silent. These comprise perhaps half of my customer base. I’m getting some work, but my carpet cleaning receipts are way off. Since I started in the business in 1993, I’ve never seen it this bad. The next task is to find a supplemental job perhaps as a delivery driver or working in security. A temporary U.S. Census Bureau job is still a possibility. I took the test back in January.

    ****

    The Oregon City McLoughlin Historic District walk features a mix of historic homes with newer structures. What’s unique is most of the historic homes aren’t dolled-up and sanitized as you might expect. In fact, the area could be described as somewhat economically depressed. My vote is the people are simply unpretentious. There is paint peeling, unmatched window treatments, aging cars, side yards filled with old doors, and windows.

    But in all of that “imperfection,” I get the feeling these are people who take care of themselves. They aren’t waiting for a bailout. They don’t want one. They simply do what they have to do to survive. If they don’t have the money to buy something new, they improvise. If they can’t pay a professional to do the job, they learn how to do it themselves. And more often than not, they do it well.

    Like the Oregon Trail pioneers of the 19th century, such people are practical, unburdened with excessive possessions, skilled with their hands, nimble of mind, and in the grand scheme of things, arguably the wisest Americans of all.

    Certainly they’re the best prepared for the current turbulence and the hard years immediately ahead.

  7. Laura says:

    Saying people can’t eat cheap bulk-purchased staple foods because they weren’t raised on those types of foods and don’t know how to cook them is a rather “enabling” statement. If people can learn to read, learn to drive a car, learn to use a television remote, etc., they can learn how to cook beans, rice, oats, etc. It’s a matter of being willing to learn and willing to eat the food. To solve the issue, if you do suggest that someone buy bulk staple items to save money on groceries, then be sure to tell them how to cook them. Or invite them over to the house and prepare some foods together so they can learn. I’m always handing out recipes and answering questions for those new to food storage.

  8. Briel says:

    Half the year I’m a college student living in an isolated bubble of wealth and happiness at a private university in the Northwest. The other half I live in rural Southern Oklahoma.

    University: There’s been increased crime as the area takes an economic hit. Muggings, car theft, and random “unprovoked (I question that)” attacks on students by locals. New this semester are emergency phone/light poles studded around campus, a campus wide emergency alert system (loudspeakers and everyone gets an email, text, and all campus phones ring with the same messages, it’s scarily well coordinated.) Some of next semester entry level classes are being canceled as the university expects fewer freshmen. I work in the student diner and we have more student workers than ever. They aren’t willing. :)

    Oklahoma: The area I live in has no economy. There are only poor people scraping by with welfare and social security. More gardens, chickens, and rabbits are showing up. Every conversation has about a ten-minute discussion about “hard times to come” and how to can. But people are tough, until the government starts cutting back on food stamps, WIC, welfare and social security I suspect that my home will survive better than most areas. I’m reminded of Orlov’s (?) idea that you want to fall from the lowest window possible.
    One thing that my area has going for it is presence of Native American tribes, most everyone is (at least a little bit) a member of a tribe. They do a lot that the U.S. government doesn’t. Build you a house if you own the land, supplemental food programs, free health care, free storm shelter (appreciated!), free septic systems, solar grants, small farm grants, zero interest loans, down payment grants for your first house. Of course, the trade off is that you have to live in Oklahoma, but I like it here… :)

    My outlook: I’m sorry that people are going to have to go through this, I wish things could continue how they’ve been going. But I’m taking the Earth’s side in this. Mainly, it’s about damn time something paused the human race.
    Part of this isn’t really fair to other people. I’ve always wanted to go back to the country. I’m not even one generation away from butchering, gardening, and canning. So while it may not be an “easy” thing for me to do, it’s also something I’ve been wanting for a long time.

    (Also, very fond of the idea that I’ll be able to go home and farm without being labeled a “failure.” As compared to being successful in a city, but absolutely miserable.)

    My future: (heh. If only I could decide it with a paragraph.) Graduate, though I probably wouldn’t have gone to university if I’d known then what I knew now. Move back to Oklahoma and live in Tulsa, small houses there are going for about ten thousand dollars and I suspect that by December there will be even more to choose from. These houses are nice because, even though they’re on the standard city lot of .16 acres their footprint is much smaller than a newer house. So more land to play with. Try to get a job and make money as fast as I can. Buy some land in the mountains where my family has lived since, well, written record. Homestead. Die happy.

  9. I live in Texas, which has one of the healthiest economies in the world at the moment. My daughter and nephew were both laid off but were able to find new jobs within a couple of weeks. My business continues to grow, and most of my clients (all small businesses) continue to do well, although everyone has had to make adjustments.

    I know several people who are in trouble — lost their jobs and living on their savings (which, in most cases, means at least partial liquidation of retirement plans). There is definitely greater security in being self employed or owning a small business. I hear that some retired people are back in the job market. I have a number of clients who retired from their first-career jobs and started businesses, but in almost every case this was by choice, not because of financial hardship.

    I do not know anyone who is going hungry, though I have heard of people who go hungry for a few days at a time when they’ve used up the credit on their Lone Star Cards (government food assistance), or when money runs out at the end of a pay period. I know of many, many people who are severely malnourished, though they don’t actually go hungry, if going hungry is defined as not having enough calories. These people get ample calories but not enough vitamins, essential minerals, fiber, or protein.

    I think the people who are the worst off are people who do not have kitchens — last time I talked to someone about this, they told me they were not able to get government food assistance, because they did not have a kitchen. I do not know if having a kitchen is still a requirement, but I’d guess it is, since one cannot use a Lone Star Card to buy prepared food.

    One used to be able to do pretty well by hitting the dumpsters at grocery stores and restaurants. Tons of food was thrown out, still in good enough condition to eat. I don’t know if this is still the case, as I have not talked with any houseless people lately. I know this is not the case in some other places — For example, the garbage pickings in most of Mexico are much slimmer than in Texas.

    I hesitate to mention this, since some people might take it the wrong way, but if things got *really* bad, squirrel and pigeon meat are both very delicious; I have never tried rat meat, but I understand it’s an acceptable food in many parts of the world. I can face the prospect of eating rodents and birds with no qualms whatsoever, although if I ate a wild rat, I would want to be sure to cook it very thoroughly. I find the thought of eating dogs and cats very distressing. I’m not sure I could do it, even to save my life — though I can imagine killing a stray dog or cat to save their lives of my husband or child if they were starving. In that case, I guess I’d probably eat some of it too. Oy! I hope this is merely my imagination running away.

  10. Lori Scott says:

    Hi from Australia.

    Before I let you know about my observations I have to let you know that here we have full health coverage for everyone paid for by the government. Its ponderous and can be frustrating but its there for everyone to access.

    We also have full unemployment benefits for everyone without limit so long as you go for all your appointments, interviews, training etc and fit into their asset and incomes tests for receiving benefits. So everybody in that situation get the cash in their bank account every fortnight. Its not a lot for single people but can be quite adequate as the scale of payment goes up and up for families with children and rent relief. All old age pensioners recieve this type of cash benefit as well.

    So we are all fairly fortunate with this type of ‘welfare state’ setup but many people do wonder about how long the federal government can keep this up if their tax base falls too far. There have never been any payment problems in the past but they do tweak the payments and eligibility every now and again.

    But we are hearing more and more of stresses and strains in the job market. Every day in the papers there are stories of mass sackings from companies who have liquidated or moved off shore.

    The resources industry which was a huge employer of people is belt tightening due to the falling commodity prices in their contracts with overseas countries and the rising costs of mining mainly due to the oil prices.

    Food is sky rocketing in the shops, especially meat which can be cyclically expensive during the traditional christmas wet season. When the wet sets in the northern cattle producers just bunker down and don’t send cattle to market.

    People’s superannuation has fallen in value. Superannuation is paid for by the employer on behalf of the employee and we don’t really pay much attention to it. It has hit hardest with people who were about to retire and who now must continue to work to top up the value of their super. Lots of retired people who were living off their superannuation have now applied to receive a government pension due to losses in this sector.

    Aussies are fairly conservative and while some people invest heavily in stocks and shares, it is not common and the average person in the street is not likely to have suffered from the stock market collapse. Most people invest in cash, superannuation funds and property which has dropped in price a little but it doesn’t matter if your mortgage is not highly geared.

    Students at university receive government benefits while they study and the university courses are paid for with a loan from the government which can be paid back at some time in the future when the student begins to earn over $41K. So my children have both opted to sit out the downturn at uni to see what happens to the economy in the future. Student is the most secure job in the country at the moment. And if everything falls in a heap, they may never have to pay back their loan.

    Hubby and I are fine, due to being very conservative borrowers. But we see friends and neighbours who have amazingly high levels of debt and we’re not sure how they will cope. Of course, we don’t live in a new modern house or drive a flash car but we’re quietly confident. My friend who lives in Sydney says that some of the high wealth suburbs there are quietly suffering but people are ashamed and are selling their homes and cars very carefully and quietly so as not to be seen to be hurting and also so as to not drive the prices down too much.

    We are disturbed to hear about the things happening to the people of the US and UK who all seem to be suffering more so than we are. We’ll keep you posted as we see things happen.

  11. I read Howard Ruff’s “Coming Depression” book in the 1970′s and never got over it. As a consequence, I have always had a little gold and a large larder. In 1996, I convinced my reluctent husband to buy some cheap land in Arkansas. He thought I was having a breakdown.

    In 2002, at the age of 54, my husband’s job with a Fortune 500 computer company was sent to India. We had already lost 90% of our 401K and investments in the DotCom bubble. For us, this crisis came early. It soon became apparent that no company wanted a middle aged man that had been making a good income.

    We moved to that land in Arkansas into a used travel trailer and what little money we had, we began building a house ourselves. It is small, it is not finished, it is livable and we are debt free. We have been on a pay as you go program for a while.

    I have spent the last 6 years working full time as a LPN and going to school full time and helping build our house. I now am a RN at a hospital in the nearest large town and commute quite a distance. You would think my job is immune. Hospitals are having financial troubles and we are finding that as nurses leave or are fired, they are not being replaced. Used to be that you had to do something really, really bad to get fired, but not anymore. What few positions are open are being held for the current employees that are in school and will be graduating at some point in the future. Every meeting is budget, budget, budget. Supplies are being horded. The amount of patients we are caring for that have no hope of paying is growing. In the mean time, I am required to do more with less and I do not complain for fear of being on the “list”.

    In our local small rural town, the major employer (a shoe factory) has cut the work week to 3 days from 5 days. Now the entire factory has closed for 2 weeks and with no pay for all employees. These are $7 hr jobs. Crime is up 50%. Mostly robberies, but we have had a couple of murder/suicides too, which has left this community in shock. Our local food bank is now serving 3 times as many people as they have in prior years. The one business in town that is flourishing is our equivalent to the Goodwill Store.

    I anticipate things will worsen. We are near a large lake, and there are many individuals that make a living with boat storage, boat repair, small motels, and diners. A lot of real estate here are just lake houses and second homes. Boats and lake houses are luxuries that may soon be abandoned here. Tourism is way down. A local fishing guide is a suicide victim.

    My husband and I are doing okay now. It has been a hard road. I am thankful that we were forced to be one of the first to be hit. We had a chance to redefine our situation while things were not as bad as they are now. My husband often whispers in my ear that he is glad I wasn’t losing my mind and having a breakdown.

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