Sunday, November 30, 2008


Somehow, Americans are always blaming themselves. We take plenty of blame from other lands, but to make matters worse, we heap blame upon our own shoulders. We Americans, we say, are spoiled. We are too used to being comfortable. We don't know how to make do. We would rather throw an older, broken item away and buy a new item than repair the old one.

Why is it that we make ourselves feel guilty for a comfortable lifestyle? Why is it that, if we attain the American dream, we have to flay ourselves with criticism so that we cannot enjoy it? The recent demise of the Middle Class is a good example of this. Instead of heaping criticism on the greed and pampering of the very wealthy, we are finally convinced it is our own fault. How dare we support countless businesses with our purchases? How dare we want nourishing food for our family? Why, some families even have two cars, a couple of televisions and a laptop! Scandalous!

The trouble is, we tell ourselves, we don't know how to skimp and scrape and make do with just a little, we want it all! I have made this statement myself, pulling up memories from my poor childhood to use them as material for blame. I can remember my mother putting on pots of bean soup that would feed twenty people and mixing up the cornbread to finish off the meal. Now, the soup comes in a can and the cornbread is in a colorful little package. Just add water and enjoy!

I can remember my mother washing clothes on a scrub board, her hands red and raw from using lye soap that ate away the dirt but, unfortunately, ate away the flesh, too. I can remember her hanging those wet clothes, barely squeezed of moisture, out on the clotheslines, left in the sun until they dried into plank-like firmness. Then she would carry them in the house and, after folding them neatly, put them away.

Is it wrong to enjoy the ease and convenience of an automatic washer or, if you can afford it, to send your clothes out to be laundered? Will that bar you from Heaven? Does that make you pampered and spoiled? I don't know, but personally, I bless the creative inventors who fashioned the automatic washer, the dryers, the self-cleaning ovens, all of the mechanical paraphernalia of today's world.

Because of the economic situation, I know several families that are resorting to heating their homes with wood. They either buy the wood or gather the deadfall, tossing it in trucks to take it home, cut it and split it. It brings back memories of the farm with its two stoves, one in the kitchen, a huge black monster, and one in the living room, a large round object, equally black and capable of holding several big logs. Between them, they kept us warm and cooked the simple foods that were available, but it took my father and brothers weeks to get that winter woodpile ready. Even my mother could pick up an axe and split wood like a seasoned lumberjack, though she never allowed the younger children to give it a try.

Is it wrong, then, to have a furnace that keeps your house warm with an even distribution of warmth? Are you spoiled if you sit back in your chair and luxuriate in the comfort of a well-heated wintertime siesta? Should we feel guilty that we are not carrying home deadfall and chopping it up for our survival? Should we take delight in the fact that so many families are resorting to these primitive methods, simply because they can no longer afford the fuel a furnace demands?

The truth is, the poorer you are, the less comfortable you are. You can measure your financial status by the amount of conveniences in your home. Many of us have read of Bill Gates' home, which he designed himself and which contains mechanical and technical gadgets that make walls move and televisions come and go, etc. We all read of billionaires who gather luxuries like plucking a bouquet of flowers in a garden, yachts, artwork, jewelry, treasures. So, how can it be wrong for the Middle Class to live as consumers in homes that are fitted with comfort? We may not have Van Goghs worth millions of bucks, but a nice Walmark print should be okay.

Americans like to place blame. If you are Republican, you undoubtedly believe that all of our woes, other than the fact that you believe Christ is driven out of Christmas, were caused by Bill Clinton. Nancy Pelosi runs a close second. If you are Liberal, you blame everything on George W. Bush, with Dick Cheney closely behind. If something takes brains, you blame Dick Cheney first, and say that George W. Bush is influenced by his master.

Since the Big Three auto companies are in dire trouble, people do not place the blame on the managers of these industries, aside from a few digs about the private jets. Instead, they blame the hard-working autoworkers and curse them for being Union members. Unions, they say, are the ones to blame for all of the woes.

Perhaps folks would rather work for the likes of Henry Ford, who used to hire plant detectives to follow his workers home, and woe to the man who stopped for a drink or two, or a man who flirted with a waitress. Henry himself was no saint, we know, but his workers were not allowed privacy with their paychecks.

Yes, we Americans are not happy unless we place a little blame here and there, yet we seem to make the same mistakes again and again. It was proven during the disastrous years of the Hoover Administration that deregulation wasn't such a bright idea...and here we are, suffering the same calammitous results.

Not only that, so many of us yearn to go back to those rustic days of splashing ice cold water on your face in the mornings instead of a hot shower and doing our dishes in a teacup. We drag our families out into the wilds, sleep in tents, and sit around campfires battling smoke and mosquitos. Each year, a herd of people head for the woods, trusty rifles in hand, determined to shoot a deer that no one really wants to eat, suffering from wet boots, soggy clothes and inclement weather.

This is classified as fun, as long as it lasts no longer than a week or two. After that, it is time to haul the laundry back to the automatic washer and enjoy the programs you have missed on television.

But it wasn't such fun for the people who lived that way, like my Mom and Pop, crawling from a warm bed to the icy temperature of a room where the coals in the stove have died down. It wasn't such fun for the constant chore of milking the cows, carrying the pail into the house, setting it in jars, then skimming off the cream and shaking that cream into butter for your family's consumption. It wasn't fun then, it was hard work, and who can blame Americans for wanting to live more lavishly?

So, tightening our belts for this economic downturn we are experiencing in this country is something we can do if we have to do it, but no one should blame us for remembering the days when we could occasionally afford to squander a little money. We don't need blame heaped on our shoulders. We don't need someone saying, "You are rich compared to the Third World countries. Eat your beans and be grateful!!" If this is what we have worked for, dreamed about, fought for...we may as well flay ourselves with beaded whips and go on penitent marches of self immolation for enjoying our pleasures! Should we shoulder the blame? No way! In this world of Bailouts and Bank Failures, the American people deserve the reward for creating the Democracy we have enjoyed and for trying to salvage it. We're willing to work harder to restore our lifestyles, but this time, buddy, the wealth will be spread around...not placed in the pockets of a few!