Sunday, February 8, 2009

The irony of doing better for our kids

I heard a small news item on the radio today. It seems in these days of economic uncertainty; some trades are doing rather well. Had I but known, I might not have shot the wad on political science, linguistics and the art of teaching English.

Heck no! It’s the shoe repair guy, the seamstress and the mechanic who are back in the money. Ah, change beyond our control – and life unravels our best intentions.

Now, as I remember there was a period of recession back in the early 1950s. It was so dismal my dad went back into the Air Force to support the family. When he first re-enlisted, he received only ‘subsistence allowance’ which basically kept a single fella in cigarettes and the occasional movie with his best girl.

My mother, a child of the Great Depression, had learned at her mother’s knee all the small economies to keep a family going when money was scarce. So getting through those six months or so was taken as a challenge rather than a major stumbling block.

Somehow, she stretched one pound of ground round into two nourishing meals for us three kids and herself. She tricked powdered milk into a palatable drink and found ways to make cabbage not only agreeable, but downright yummy. She made the dour surround of an apartment above a hardware store feel comfortable and secure even without a dad there to lean on. Because she’d learned all this from a veteran of longer, deeper, meaner times.

Soon thereafter, the 50s boomed. Big Time. Money flowed, business flourished and by the mid 60s when I started working, there was never a fear of doing without. It’s true what they say. If you didn’t like the way your boss looked at you one morning, you just quit on the spot, walked down the street and started a new job at a better place the next morning.

Unions grew strong and folks got used to the idea that a king’s ransom was the going rate for punching in. Labor was premium and a strike struck fear in the hearts of the company, not the worker. The dawn of the culture of entitlement. Plain folk could look at their kids and know they had provided better than their own parents had been able to do for them. And taught them to expect it would always be so.

But it’s a funny thing. The early tougher times that drove our generation to do better, is also what taught our generation how to cope with downturns. Now I understand why my parents spoke so nostalgically about the Great Depression.

I’m wondering what younger generations have in memory to draw on to help them get through. Maybe ours missed the boat by not keeping those early lessons in mind. I’m sure the younger ones will manage (and do it in ways we may come to admire) no matter how hard the struggle.

But the irony of generations striving to make life better for the next is inescapable. Maybe ‘doing better’ is not all there is to ‘doing well’ by our kids. Photo credit: here


  1. This was a very insightful and poignant post Devon. My Mother was from a family with 12 kids sooo.. I was raised on learning how to make soups and stews that could feed an army for pennies:)

  2. Saying hello from a fellow writer!

    I moved! Come see me at

  3. $1.39 menu at McDonalds.

    Great for those recession blues.



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