There’s always something to howl about

Americans and Hard Times

Born in the summer of 1951, I’m one of those Boomers who’ve lived the transformation from simpler, more innocent times, to the hi-tech, everything’s gotta be in the fast lane, in your face 21st century. 1951? Possibly the best debut year in post WW II Major League Baseball, as both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays broke in that year. I grew up watchin’ both of ’em in their primes, as they played at levels normal human beings could only daydream about.

America was a country in transition. The big war victoriously concluded, albeit at horrific cost, the Korean ‘Police Action’ about done, and Boomers were being born by the dozens everywhere you looked. So many paradigms were shifting all at once it seemed. The GI Bill was sending thousands of young men and women to college — folks who before the war would only have fantasized about affording a college degree and the life it promised. Suburbs entered our vocabulary. Home ownership begin to grow at prodigious velocity. Cars became a must have item.

It all sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? It was, but it wasn’t all Channel No. 5 and Willie makin’ basket catches.

My memory really only goes back to around 1956, when I turned five, started kindergarten, and got to attend ‘regular kid’ Sunday school at Dad’s church. Of course, it wasn’t ’till much later in life that I realized why I had such a good time with the older kids — duh, I was the preacher’s kid, but wasn’t anything in the same zip code as a goody two-shoes. Yeah, even back then.

Ironically, like many in my generation I learned how Americans handled hard times by listening to my grandparents tell about the Great Depression. Once you’ve heard enough of those stories from folks who lived through it as teens and emerged as adults of tempered steel, you tend to shy away from self pity when hard times come knockin’ at your door — hard times hardly in the league about which they talked.

Grandma was the oldest of eight kids who were born and raised in rural Missouri. Hard times? Most don’t realize this, but hard times hit rural areas long before the big crash of 1929. In the mid to late ’20’s Grandma and Great-grandpa (also a preacher) several times headed out on a freight train, leaving the rest of the family to work on dairy farms in Ohio, pick crops in other surrounding states, or in one case shuck corn at harvest time in Nebraska. She was 14 when her dad began bringing her with him on those sojourns.

Hard times? Those were hard times. And that’s how Americans back then got through them. They relied on family and neighbors and themselves, making incredible personal sacrifices as a matter of course. It takes a village? My ass. It took rugged individuals who helped those who helped themselves. Their hard core sense of self reliance, responsibility, duty to family and those in need was fierce. Wanna know what was missing?

A sense of entitlement and moral relativism. Even those showing up at Grandma’s door, later on during the actual Depression, in Vista, California, would refuse even a sparse meal of scraps unless they could do something, anything to earn their way. The worst of it though was when, “We literally didn’t have anything to share — then being thanked for our kind hospitality.”

Hard times.

We’re in the middle of a giant helping of what my Uncle calls FUBAR. Don’t know what it means? Ask anyone who’s been in the military. It means things are screwed up pretty badly. Having lived through several recessions, I have my own sad stories, which I won’t share here, as my stories are surely no different than yours. I’ve stared into the black abyss alone too.

It’s an experience we’ve all had when times turn harder than Aunt Evie’s stare after you’ve crossed her. It’s the sudden awareness that your worst fears may indeed become the new reality in your life. The cold chill of desperate fear that sweeps through every part of you with a sometimes literal sense of temporary paralysis. It’s when we look directly into the black abyss — alone with our thoughts. It makes some, it breaks some — but it’s difficult to imagine it leaving anyone the same as before.

And the nights? Geez, Louise, Mytle — who hasn’t gone through a 20 hour night of your mind playing horror movies with you as the victim? It can be debilitating.

So many of those in real estate and related fields have been playing out the black abyss part of their life’s script lately. We all make that trip alone, regardless of our support system. It’s like major surgery — your family and friends will be there for you, but you’re still the only one on the table with a doctor standing over you wielding a scalpel. Support only goes so far.

I write about this only to remind you — you’re not alone — not by a long shot. Speaking only for myself and my past trips through the black abyss, I can tell you this without reservation. I came out a better person, with a stronger sense of who I am, and a steely confidence born only from the heat it takes to temper high quality steel.

I also discovered quite happily that my spiritual faith had been tested. Turns out my faith and beliefs were strong, and made stronger — a blessing from which I benefit to this day. There’s nothing like getting your priorities right, while learning you were up to the task.

Would most of us go through the black abyss again by choice? No sir, not me. But I’ll tell ya something that surprised me about myself — I wouldn’t go back and erase those experiences for all the gold in Fort Knox. There’s a freedom that comes with successfully staring down the demons that seem to arise in us during soul-wrenching, character testing, hard times.

There’s no feeling freer than the knowledge you measured up. You were knocked down, but not out. You emerged as a higher quality, tempered steel. And even better than that? Hard times will never scare you again.

Put a price on that.


27 Comments so far

  1. Brian Brady July 22nd, 2009 8:39 pm

    “It took rugged individuals who helped those who helped themselves. Their hard core sense of self reliance, responsibility, duty to family and those in need was fierce.”

    Thanks for being that “light” when the abyss got darker. Bad days are best cured with a call to you. I NEVER doubt my ability to thrive after 10 minutes on the phone with you, Jeff.

  2. Jeff Brown July 22nd, 2009 8:49 pm

    I genuinely hop you’re not surprised to learn that’s a two way street. Always has been.

  3. Greg Swann July 23rd, 2009 7:08 am

    Damn good writing, Jeff. Moving, inspiring — and musical. My hat is off to you!

  4. […] Americans and Hard Times […]

  5. Benjamin Dona July 23rd, 2009 6:30 am

    Thanks for a good read and the reminder Jeff. “Been there, done that” is a good thing to remember in this day and age.

  6. Teri Lussier July 23rd, 2009 6:40 am

    You usually kick my booty in your posts, Jeff, but today you brought a little tear to my eye.

    >There’s no feeling freer than the knowledge you measured up. You were knocked down, but not out. You emerged as a higher quality, tempered steel. And even better than that? Hard times will never scare you again.

    Amen, Brotherman.

  7. Dan Connolly July 23rd, 2009 7:22 am

    From someone also born in the summer of 1951, I can relate! Good stuff Jeff!

  8. Jeff Brown July 23rd, 2009 10:05 am

    Teri — My experience with you has convinced me tempered steel is part of your DNA. 🙂

  9. Jeff Brown July 23rd, 2009 10:08 am

    Greg complementing my writing — sweet — and very much appreciated.

  10. SuiteSusan July 23rd, 2009 11:32 am

    So true,all makes sense to me. Work hard, go through tough times, and then come out the other side with new found appreciation for whats important. Too bad these days we don’t get the chance to hear or tell the stories enough that this generation gets it before they go through their own tough times. I guess you live and you learn! God Bless and thanks. Brewer Caldwell

  11. David Orsini July 23rd, 2009 12:47 pm

    “> It’s when we look directly into the black abyss — alone with our thoughts.”

    Reminds me of a good Edgar Allen Poe quote:

    “Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

    Deep stuff man.

  12. Marian Brown July 23rd, 2009 1:23 pm

    Hey, son, you make me very proud…particularly your skills at expressing yourself with your writing. As a parent, it’s always rewarding to realize that you did get through to your kids, even tho they won’t always admit it [“Do your understand me? yeah, yeah yeah”.] Sometimes, they don’t even know it until the circumstances reveal that it’s become part of their true character. Keep washin’ those baggies and clippin’ coupons!…love, mom

  13. Tom July 23rd, 2009 3:32 pm

    Interesting to me, as I am of the end of the Boomer gen, born in 1960. (But my father was WW2.)

    Times are very different now. You never see throngs of children running around the streets, playing sports any longer. Everything is arranged and planned. Families are smaller. Video games, tv and movies. (When I was growing up, it was just the tube, which had much less to watch.)

    Perhaps some of the older values will re-assert themselves in this tough period. Here’s hoping.

  14. Jeff Brown July 23rd, 2009 7:17 pm

    Ah, washin’ baggies and savin’ coupons. I remember now. BawldMom has left the building. 🙂

  15. Jeff Brown July 23rd, 2009 7:22 pm

    Hey Tom — I was one of those kids. We could walk or bike anywhere with impunity. Played the season’s sport ’till we dropped. Played baseball and football in the streets ’till we couldn’t see to play, or our moms yelled at us to come in for dinner and/or homework. Our outside curfew? Dark-30.

    Today’s kids don’t know what they’re missing, do they?

  16. Dan Connolly July 23rd, 2009 8:14 pm

    I don’t think we ever locked the doors on our house when I was a kid. We would hitch hike to get to the movies from about age 10 on and no one gave it a second thought. Get in a stranger’s car… Why not? Didn’t have to check in after school, we just had to be home by 6:00 for dinner, then back out until the street lights came on.

    Boys settled their differences by fighting in the school yard. A circle would form. You had to fight fair and when one kid “gave in” it was over. No one got in trouble for it, the teachers would watch and let it go on.

  17. Jeff Brown July 23rd, 2009 8:31 pm

    Dan — I lived that childhood. We fought ‘behind the kindergarten bungalows after school’. Teachers knew about the fights, kept their distance. Also, there were periods when I hitchhiked everywhere without a problem ever.

  18. Greg Dallaire July 24th, 2009 4:33 am

    Now if we only could look back more on history and learn from the past on a daily basis we would be less likely to repeat it.

    I sometimes wonder why our government stray’s away from what makes it great. We are now going down a clear path that is extremely similiar to an era that our elders have been through and I can guarantee they would be telling us to run the other direction.

    Jeff sorry for the rant your post was a breath of fresh air but got me thinking about what were going through on a daily basis. Keep up the insightful blogging.

  19. Geno Petro July 24th, 2009 8:09 am

    ‘Geez, Louise, Mytle’ I loved that read this morning.

  20. Cam July 24th, 2009 9:48 am

    Wow…you really brought me back. While I am not a 50’s generation guy, I can definitely relate to your post…really inspirational in these times. Thanks!

  21. Jeff Brown July 24th, 2009 9:50 am

    How cool is that? A ‘Geno’ feather in my cap. You made my day, thanks.

  22. Al Lorenz July 24th, 2009 11:03 am


    Thanks for reminding me again that trying times are the forges of confidence.

  23. Jeff Brown July 24th, 2009 9:49 pm

    Cam — It gratifying to hear that — thanks.

  24. John hamrick July 25th, 2009 6:51 am

    Very inspirational Jeff, it is a shame that most of the problems we face today are self-inflicted based on reality that we as a nation have strayed so far from the core value system that our ancestors enjoyed.

    Although painful, the events of today had to happen sooner or later, we all knew they would, now its up to us individually and as a nation to understand how we got here and make some major adjustments in the way we think and act.

  25. Jeff Brown July 25th, 2009 11:45 am

    That core value system was based solely on the Judeo-Christian ethic.

    The consequences of volitional responsibility are like the tides — they won’t be controlled. They just ‘are’.

  26. Lisa Bosques July 25th, 2009 12:47 pm

    Thank you for writing this. Looks like fate brought me to Bloodhound today, as this was something I really needed to read and hear today.

  27. […] mother becomes tempered steel, because she’s given away so much of herself that what is left, perhaps all that is left, is […]