I’m tired of two kinds of gloomy Guses: First, the Chicken Littles who claim the economic sky is falling on our heads. Secondly, the doomsayers who will not recognize the material abundance that’s produced by the cornucopia of America. A silly sub-cell of this ideological club repeats incessantly that the gap between rich and poor – the affluent and the empty-stomached flatulent is widening day by day. I considered this accusation last night as I watched an ad for a can opener. It’s a dandy. Attaches to the can magnetically, I suppose. You push a button and it zips open the can. Price – 20 bucks. Amazing We live in an economic wonderland where there is a market for a $20 can opener. The dollar store sells the same functional device for 50 cents. But there are those willing and able to pay a forty fold premium for convenience.
No, man can’t live on bread alone. You need a couple slices of roast beef, tomato, a slice of cheese – mustard, pickle, and slaw. Now, that’s a sandwich. But with a little work, a little luck, we can all sit down at the American kitchen table and enjoy. Nobody need hunger here.
Take my grandparents. No, not like Henny Youngman. I mean really. Consider my grandparents. They lived in two dusty rooms above their Main Street store. They did not drive a car because they had no driver’s license and no extra money for private transportation. The bus would do.
They didn’t pay a lot of attention to the young boy who was me in the late 1930′s. They were my grandparents. But it was a half century ago when grandparents were too busy making a living to dote on kids.
Their two attic rooms were an inauspicious beginning in a new land, but it certainly beat a wood-planked frame dwelling with an al fresco bathroom where the North wind from the Baltic was the only visitor, besides sword-swinging Cossacks
Today, kids would describe the couple of rooms they lived in as “cool”; only because it yielded a built-in box seat to the two parades a year that tramped down Main Street – the main commercial thoroughfare of Memphis, Tennessee. And even “cooler”, across the street was a candy store. On parade day, my cousins and I would stock up on two or three cents worth of candy. We luxuriated on chairs turned to the windows, looking down in comfort at the glittering cavalcade that marched beneath our perch. It was a big day. Sadly, there were only two parades a year. That left 363 days out of 365 to swat mosquitoes, watch the river flow by, and think up variations of “Hot enough for ya, today?”
In the background were the grandparents. Literally, in the background. They were not at our sides providing constant comfort. They didn’t service our childish whims like today’s grandparents. Such behavior wouldn’t be canonized in the grandparents’ instructional manual for another three decades.
They were short on gifts and expressions of love. That tide in those days flowed from us to them. Our parents, with whispered guidance, instructed US to pamper THEM.
“Get your grandmother a glass of water.”
“Get up so Papa can sit in the armchair. He’s been on his feet all day, you know.”
It was their world, not ours. And their motto was SURVIVE. They needed the armchair and a cool glass of water because they worked a 12-hour day – six days a week. Who had time for hugs and kisses for grandkids? Hugs and kisses were for customers. They American Promise of the 30′s was opportunity, not security.
Sunday, a day of Christian rest edicted by Memphis blue laws, they sipped hot tea at the kitchen table and congratulated themselves on paying the bills for one more week. They did not spend the day meditating on a list of toys for their grandson.
Joe and Lizzie, my grandparents, lived in three drafty rooms; essentially an attic above their downtown store. But the next generation, my parents, had a neat, brick, 3-bedroom home in Midtown.
My generation came along and outdid its parents by two baths, two bedrooms, and a tree-shaded lot in the suburbs. Then my kids, with more opportunity and more leisure than their grandparents or me, bought a palatial house that the richest landowner in the old country couldn’t imagine. The monthly note equals my grandparents’ annual income That’s the way the wind is blowing from generation to generation. Yes, there are exceptions, but the opportunity is there to correct them