Before Borrowing and Spending Became the Norm and the Cow Jumped over the Moon

I was born in 1940 in Rosebud, Texas.  It is a quaint little town of perhaps, 1,000 people at best.  At dusk on Saturdays, people would stroll about the town streets and greet and smile at each other. My mother, Eva Pace Walker and father, Kramer Maurice (Bud) Walker had a teaching contract at the rural school in Meeks, Texas which was about halfway between Temple and Rosebud.  The teacher age was in the country.  There was a schoolhouse and a dwelling house for the teachers (usually a man and wife).  When I was born their combined pay annually was under a thousand dollars.  Yes, per year.

There was an old black woman who lived in the thickets and reeds near the creek that ran eventually by our house, and when my mom went into labor with me, the story goes that the old woman, named Black Halley came out of the briars to comfort my mom and go fetch my Dad, wherever he was at the time.  My mother had fond memories of this old black woman, displaced from society by race and by fortune for her to have to live in the bulrushes and briars away from the mainstream of society, but regardless there she was, a fellow creature of the earth that my Mom remembers as having comforted her when she went into labor. 

My Dad rushed in and got Mom and they struck out for Rosebud, a distance of about 6 miles over a muddy, non-paved road.  The labor was long, yet Mom endured and I was born in a hospital of an old house made over into a hospital at about 6 am in the morning.  I don’t remember a bit of it, but it feels like I must have been present.  I have all the doctors’ bills and receipts still, and I cost Mom and Dad well under $100 total for all the trouble, more like under $25.00, including the silver nitrate they put into my eyes.

So away we all went back to the Meeks schoolhouse and teacher age house where Mom and Dad lived, courtesy of the School Board made up of local farmers of German/Czech descent.  I was told that all the school kids went gaga over me, but I couldn’t tell you why.

The nearest house from us was built and occupied by Bill and Marie Gerngross, a delightful old couple who babysat me for years to come.  They were nice people and showed me many of the early, small boy wonders of the world.  I learned a lot of new stuff, like how thunder was due to many German men up in the sky drinking numerous barrels of beer and rolling the empties down the side of a ragged mountain which accounted for the noise called thunder.

Today it is spring of 2013, and I sit at a keyboard right at the break of day.  Right outside my window is a forest of green evergreen trees; the specie of which it appears will be a mystery to me until the day I die, for there seems to be no time to prioritize my discovering their genus.  But they are lovely and evergreen for all the year, even during hard freezes in the wintertime. 

I sigh and wonder about my 72 years and all.  In an earlier day and time I did not care that much about the meaning of life and things, but now everything seems freshly scrambled into a nonsensical pattern where no one, including me, knows much about the origin of things or where world ship is headed.  It used to be, as in the days of the gentle old farmers of Central Texas where I was born, things were cut and dried.  You planted crops.  Money crops, like cotton, were popular, but corn for the chickens and hogs was essential, too.  If it rained and came a flood, sometimes you had to begin over again with the planting.  Your neighbors were your life candy, and you spoke of them with a grin and a twinkle in your eye.  Everybody knew each other and never was there a doubt about their warm and good intentions toward each other as humans all in the same boat.  You wished them well and hoped they would prosper with good strong families and bountiful crops.  A twinkle came to your eye just to know they were there, just down the road, maybe a mile or so over the next hill planted in cotton or corn.

The world was luscious then.  At night you could smell the cool air of summer, and it smelled like fresh-cut hay.  I went barefooted a lot and wore bib overalls with stripes and was shy in the least to wear such attire when people in town would laugh and call me a hayseed.  Mr. Gerngross let me drive his tractor, a faded orange Allis Chalmers.  You started it by flipping a switch then pulling on a wire looped to fit your finger.  This was the starter that worked off a battery.  Back then many tractors needed to be hand cranked, but Mr. Gerngross had a modern machine with an electric starter.

On Saturdays you went with a galvanized bucket to the beef club.  You laughed with Mr. Gerngross at the grasshoppers who would hitch a ride in the breeze on top of Pontiac’s steel feathered head.  You watched closely to see if they would spit tobacco juice on the hood ornament named after the Indian Chief the automobile was named after.

The beef club was at a farmer’s house who had just killed a large steer and dressed it, cut it up into selected portions and gave it away in tallied portions to over 50 farmers who came to fetch it at Saturday daybreak as members of the club.  There was no charge, you see, because the day of reckoning would come in a few months when you had to kill a steer in your barn and divvy it up among your fellow members of the Cyclone Beef Club in Cyclone, Texas.

But back in the present, I went to Kroger today, a little north of Houston and decided that every cut of beef was beyond my means.  Retired and over 70, I could no longer afford beef because it had become too much of a luxury at today’s prices.  I thought, too, of how gasoline for the old 1936 Pontiac sedan only cost 15 cents per gallon for Mr. Gerngross to filler up back in 1948 for about $3.00 total.  Today just north of Houston where I live, gasoline is over $3.40 per gallon, and the price for a fill-up is $80.00.

Back in the days of farmers and cheap prices, no one had health insurance against sickness, disease, or maladies that could prove fatal.  There was little help from the fledgling Social Security retirement pay, too.  You had to keep on plowing and reaping and raising hogs, chickens, and cows for food.  If crops failed due to weather or other events, you had to eat the loss.  And go beg your hardship case to the landlord or the bank.

News is of late that Cyprus this spring of 2013 is about to tap rich client’s bank accounts of say, 25%.  This means that if an individual has a balance in his account of $100,000 the government takes an arbitrary amount of $25,000 from this individual.  And calls it a legitimate tax.  Just because, that’s all.  Because the government’s need of money is dire and yours (because you have a surplus of 100K just sitting in your account) is not, well it ain’t yours anymore.  End of story.  Must have been the same empty feeling many farmers had when the Stock Market fell in 1929 and many lost everything they had.  The arbitrary taking of money such as in Cyprus is symptomatic of a world gone mad.  A CRAZYWORLD as defined by the Hopi Indian tribe where everything is turned upside down and makes no sense.

At this point in time our National Debt here in the United States is just short of hitting $15,000,000,000,000.  That’s 15 million times a million dollars.  We have borrowed and spent so much that the only solution is to keep the printing presses going round the clock to pay back whatever interest on the debt that is required to sustain us as a nation and to keep us from raising the white flag of financial surrender.  It is truly amazing that nothing has collapsed completely quite yet.  Everyone is holding their breath.  Could it be that we might cease to be as a country because the fiduciaries we elected to office misused and abused their office and spent us to a place where there is no recovery in sight?

The financial health of the world has become a dire thing to behold.

“Turn, turn, my wheel!  What is begun
At daybreak must at dark be done,
To-morrow will be another day’
To-morrow the hot furnace flame
Will search the heart and try the frame,
And stamp with honor or with shame
These vessels made of clay!”

- Longfellow, Keramos, 1893

Will we revert to an agrarian society with beef clubs where you take your turn at killing for the good and benefits of the group of club members?  Will hungry marauders in the night come take the hanging meat before the members come at daybreak on Saturday?  Will fresh water always be available?  Will cholera return as a side issue when government becomes too expensive to endure?

Or will we continue to live on the installment plan of how much a month does it cost (forget the total price of a house, a car, a trip to the grocery store)?  It will be interesting to see, but I am not certain I want to be around when it happens.  What do you think?  Good old days might be a figment of the imagination when looking back.  Maybe the good old days are here and now.  I would like to think so.  But more, I would like to think they would last and not self-destruct.  Like when our National Debt reaches, say, $30 Trilion.  But first we got to make do with what we have and stop borrowing as a nation and as a society. 

“Stop, stop my wheel!  Too soon, too soon, the noon will be the afternoon,
Too soon to-day be yesterday;
Behind us in our path we cast
The broken potsherds of the past,
And all are ground to dust at last,
And trodden into clay!”

- Longfellow, Keramos, 1893