Going through my deceased father’s filing cabinet this morning has been a prospector’s dream. The following is one of the gems unearthed from his writing files:
What I saw that night on my father’s face and early the next day on my mother’s was the same look I discovered on most of the adults I encountered in the following months and years. My teachers at school, the clerks in the grocery stores, the policeman who came by the school at dismissal time and whose presence noticeably slowed traffic, all these adults looked busted. Oh, there are nicer words to describe the look on their faces: fear, bewilderment, frustration. Busted is the right word. They looked busted. They were busted.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt shook the look just a bit when he told my parents and the nation that we had “nothing to fear except fear itself.” I watched the busted look on my father’s face mend a little as he listened. He never healed completely from the shock of 1929, which is certainly understandable.
What is far more complex is that I, a child of the depression, along with millions of others, grew up amidst visible poverty, and we never lost the fear of being busted. Economist easily identify our group. “Cohorts,” they label us. We are marked by an historical event; we share a distrust of plastic credit cards and we believe in saving for the rainy day we know is inevitable.
Our children are different. They are now over-40 year old parents who embraced the play now/pay later way of life. Some of them, when things get out of hand, flee into the closet of bankruptcy and play again while there is still money on the table.
How can my older generation reach our grown children? Is there no way to share our truth? Let’s try.
Children, you who are the parents of my grandchildren, listen! Choose to do without before you are forced to be without.
Put off the European vacation you can’t afford. The huddled masses of Europe, yearning to be free, used to hunger for the protection of the Statue of Liberty; nowadays, hungry American tourists huddle in masses under the golden arches of MacDonald’s in foreign cities! Try appreciating America before you get homesick and deeper in debt.
Put off buying the status symbol car. Postpone moving to the exclusive subdivision. Give your children a taste of public school and get active in the parent-teacher association.
Save some money! Spend the money you have wisely and you will have some to save. Buy a new car if you truly need one, but educate yourself about the costs of acquiring and maintaining your chariot. Renovate the home you live in. Get involved in your neighborhood and civic activities.
Pay off your foolish debts and help our county pay off our national debt. Republicans and Democrats agree on our need for concerted action, raising taxes we can tolerate, but only if we spend the new money on paying off the old debt.
If we fail to act together, we will not pass our final exam in international economics. We will get the message we never want to hear: “The party’s over. You’re busted.”
My dad wrote this in the late 1980s, when the oil dependent Texas economy was plummeting. I don’t know about the rest of the nation, but I hope Texan “Boomers and Gen X’ers” reflect, process, and adopt this sage advice as the Texas Legislature determines how to use its 140 days.