Family, Hold Back!


My parents were born in the 1920’s and lived through the depression. Although I came much, much later (I am the last of 8 kids and we are spread over 20 years), we learned from lessons they were hard taught growing up in a time when there just simply wasn’t any work and therefore money.

If you are at any McKagan family gathering (a large crowd to be sure), try muttering ‘FHB’ and see what happens. Well, I’ll tell you what will happen, you will suddenly see the 8 brothers and sisters taking minuscule portions on their respective plates at the pot-luck buffet table. ‘Family Hold Back’ is a saying that comes from years of simply too many kids and not enough to feed us all of the time. One of us would almost always certainly have a friend over for dinner and this is when the secret code of ‘FHB’ started… make sure the guest had enough to eat, take a small portion, don’t say anything.

I remember my mom telling me stories of what it was like growing up in the depression. Stories of not having enough money to heat the house in the winter and wearing sweaters and coats all of the time. Stories of how her mother would fix a broken roller skate or doll and that would be THE Christmas present. These stories have haunted every major financial decision I have made in adulthood. Fear of ending up in some film-noire- like poor house. My mother I think never quite trusted our government and our fiscal system since. We kids were taught by example, lessons of frugality and thrift. These lessons probably kept us all away from being caught up in the recent mortgage crisis directly; you see, we do not spend beyond our respective ‘pay-grades’. But people from my generation didn’t all have depression-era parents and I think the fear from that era did not a lasting impression make.

The economy seems to be headed into some sort of prolonged recession. If the $700 billion dollar bailout doesn’t see any kind of worthwhile results, we may indeed be heading into an economic depression. Greed seems to be the culprit. We all wanted more and we want it right fucking NOW! We were led to believe that a $400k loan on a $30k a year salary was do-able. Our lust for bigger and better turned us away from thinking logically. The big financial institutions jumped at the opportunity to make the fast buck without thinking or caring about the long-term quagmire that this sort of shallow-sighted banking practice would create. Of course, the people who got fucked by these loans are now being asked to pony up and bail out the same institutions that screwed them. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I think we all now feel a little ‘dirty’ for our high rate of credit card spending in our race to accrue more stuff. Our modern capitalist system is based on an amazing economic philosophy. Adam Smith I believe, never envisioned the sheer greed and corruption that his 18th century book ‘Wealth of Nations’ would eventually be party to.

A Price/Waterhouse employee whom was laid off, killed his family and then himself today apparently over the woes of the stock market slump and his low prospects for any work. It is time indeed to pull in the reigns.

I hear talk on the radio of whomever wins this election having to enact an almost Roosevelt-like ‘New Deal’ program to resurrect our economy. In short, the ‘New Deal’ created jobs through Federal Works, like building highways and dams. While these things did help the country in the long run, they were funded pretty much all by the taxpayer. If it weren’t for WWII, who’s to say if this program would’ve worked. Nothing like a good war to re-invigorate private business. I don’t know that much about economics but it seems to me that we need a fiscal-system mixture of socialism and capitalism. Nationalized health care like England and corporate pride like the Pacific Rim.

I think it is time for us all to perhaps look back and study the history of our country. It’s time to read the testimonials of the depression-era (try David M. Kennedy’s Pulitzer prize winning ‘Freedom From Fear’). If we can just all stop wanting so much from too little, maybe the race to accrue wealth and material will wane. The peer pressure of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ has simply got to stop. FHB!

Personally, I look forward to the prospects of pulling back a bit. Going to Wenatchee for Thanksgiving will provide just as much family time as going to Hawaii. My daughters will have just as much fun. I will do my part and frequent local stores and restaurants as much as is feasible, but I will also be a lot more cognizant of what something costs. I doubt we will splurge on Christmas presents like we have for the past 10 or so years, but hell, we have everything we need and a ton more. Just maybe this whole crisis will bring my little family closer together.

The other night, I was telling my 8-year-old daughter a bedtime story. Usually, these consist of made up lore of how our family dog is a super-hero at night and that is why he sleeps all day. But this night, I decided to tell her of the stories my mother had told me about her growing up in the depression. My daughter thought it was really neat that a doll could be fixed up and re-gifted as a present. It never really dawned on me that perhaps my daughters really don’t need the newest and best things all of the time. Maybe it is time for me to tell them more of the values I was taught growing up in a large family with working class parents. The values that I learned from the depression era. Values that maybe even I have overlooked as of late.

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