Come September

Posted on 30 June 2010


In contemplating a title for this article, I could very well have lifted a line from a beloved old Grateful Dead song, Truckin’.  “What a long, strange trip it’s been” surely describes my life.  For the most part, it’s been a good life.   For everything that I have put into it and everything that I have gotten out of it, my life seemed to be headed in a certain direction — until I reached my golden years.  That’s when it turned strange.


Growing up in South Philadelphia with my two brothers during the Great Depression, the life lessons learned in my youth held me in good stead as I matured, carving the path that my life has taken.  Hard work and honesty were the cornerstones of my family.  Like most traditional families of those times, my father was the breadwinner, and my mother was the heart and soul of our household.   My dad worked long hours in my grandfather’s barbershop while my mother did the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and nearly every other household chore, including the most important one: the majority of the child-rearing.   My brothers and I pitched in to help whenever we could.  Back then, when the unemployment rate had skyrocketed to 25%, it took teamwork to get by as well as maintain our sanity.


We may not have been rich, but we were happy.  Simple, inexpensive outings, such as a trip down the river on the Wilson Line or hiking in the Wissahickon Park provided my family with downtime as well as quality time, in which we strengthened our bonds and celebrated being alive.  I remember those times with great fondness, as I do playing stickball and other games in the street along with the neighborhood kids.  Somebody’s mother or grandmother was always peering down upon us, making sure that we were safe and causing no major mischief.  If we were the cause of any trouble, may heaven have helped us as those watchful eyes would report back pronto to our parents, who then doled out appropriate punishments.


Back then, there was no such thing as a Time Out to curtail the behavior of unruly children.  There was no such thing as withholding television from us for our minor sins, because TV had yet to be invented!   There was no such thing as “reasoning” with us or facilitating the development of our “critical thinking skills” that would enable us to see the error of our ways.  In those days, parents had neither the time not the inclination for such approaches.  They were engaged in the very serious task of keeping the roof over their kids’ heads and food in their mouths.  The ideology behind “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was not a philosophy in my house; it was a way of life.   My brothers and I quickly learned that things could be a lot more pleasant if we followed our parents’ rules and mores, including respect for others.


As the years passed, my brothers and I were able to help the family in a monetary fashion.  After-school jobs, such as serving as delivery boys for local grocers, working newspaper routes, or clerking in stores allowed us to chip in a bit at home while still enjoying a little “blow money.”


At age the age of sixteen, we traded our short pants for long ones, for that was the mark of a boy coming of age.  Many of us came of age a lot faster than we’d bargained for, courtesy of World War II.   Two years after I’d begun to wear men’s clothing, I traded those clothes for a military uniform, at the command of the United States Army.


After the war, those lucky enough to return home attempted to recapture the years lost in the conflict by trying to meld back into civilian life.  But we were forever changed, as was the nation.  When the war ended, so did the jobs that supplied the war, mostly in manufacturing.  Because there were not enough jobs for the returning troops, many veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill: a piece of legislation enabling vets to attain college educations or learn one of the trades by way of vocational schools.  With our newfound knowledge, we moved into decent-paying jobs, jobs that helped make our country the most economically sound nation in the world.


In the years to follow, we left our homes and the sheltering arms of our parents.  We began our own lives with the girls of our dreams.  Shortly afterward, we experienced the joys and responsibilities of raising our own families and understood, finally, our parents’ perspectives.   We worked, and we worked hard.  We put away for our retirement, to be able to enjoy our golden years with our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Never did we expect to find ourselves in a situation tottering too close for comfort to the same one we’d experienced as kids growing up in the Great Depression.  At least, I didn’t.


Now that I am a senior citizen, I am floored, dismayed, and disheartened by what I see, and I feel that I speak for many people of my generation.  We served our country; we worked within the system and paid into the system.  We had assumed that our honest and industrious work ethic would bear fruit, for it is karmic law that what you give out, you receive back.  We did not expect to lose our shirts when the stock market crashed nearly two years ago. We did not anticipate that our government would blithely fork over $710 billion in aid – not to a needy working class, but to the elite: those who own and run huge mega-million dollar corporations.


These events have left senior citizens up the creek without a paddle.  On fixed incomes, we must juggle the costs of necessities against the ever-rising cost of living.  In addition to food, shelter (including the utilities and appliances and everything else within those shelters), and of course, clothing, we must – by law – carry insurance on our cars and perhaps in the near future, our health.


Over and over, my mind spins with questions of how my dad managed just the basics on the salary he earned.  We owned no car.  Our home was not air conditioned, nor did it boast a hot water heater, a dryer, a dishwasher, or other modern-day amenities.  And yet, we still enjoyed life to the fullest.  As President George H.W. Bush recalled the era he lived in, “Life was simpler and kinder then.”  Where did we go wrong?  Is overindulgence the “reward” we must now reap?


If only we seniors could return to those carefree days of childhood.  Until someone constructs a time machine, that’s not going to happen.  For now, here is another hard to believe fact that seniors must swallow.  Although the estate tax for 2010 is zero, it will climb to 55% in 2011!  If you are interested in cashing in on some savings, please refer to my article on this site entitled, Single Shot 45.


I suppose the plight of the Over the Hill Gang can best be summed up in a song.  We’re not talking about the Grateful Dead anymore; we’re talking about an artist of my generation.  We’re talking about Frank Sinatra’s, The September of My Years:


One day you turn around and it’s summer.

The next day you turn around and it’s fall.

And all the springs and winters of a lifetime

Whatever happened to them all?

  

 

 





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9 Responses to “Come September”

  1. Tilly says:

    I agree with this article whole hearted. I grew up much the same way with my mother being at home while father worked. I think that in these simpler times we really understood what a real family unit was.
    Our family time usually entailed a fishing outing since worms were free if you went out to dig them. Dad would make us poles out of nice long branches. Or perhaps a picnic.

    We toil away the years hoping to line our nest for our golden years.
    But when retirement time comes we still do not have enough money. So you wonder what the point is if you will just have more time on your hands to worry.
    Then the social security is a pittance for all the money we have paid into it Then when we are to ill to work its like society writes us off as no longer being of value. In the matter of health care we get minimal care and its like your always getting the run around.

    To be alive is a feeling we cannot really describe but in all fairness life is tough.
    So the only thing we can do is take life as it comes one day at a time. I hope one day the goverment finally figures out who needs help more the little people or the big cheeses.

  2. Sammy K. says:

    Tommy, all we can do is take one day at a time and enjoy it. Not act our ages! 🙂 Seriously, this was a great article; another great article, I mean. Hope you and your family have been well. Take care!

  3. Author says:

    Hi Sammy welcome back, the family is well, matter of fact in 8 months we will be adding another great grandchild into the family. Stay healthy and enjoy the hoiday toasting our Independence with a brewski or two. they say “in heaven there is no beer that’s why we drink it here” God Bless you and yours

  4. Sammy K. says:

    Thanks, Tommy. I got over a bout there, I did. Glad to hear about your new grandchild on the way. Hey, my idea of heaven is a Jersey bar where the music is good and the beer never stops flowing! God bless you, too, and your family as well.

  5. Sammy K. says:

    Sorry, Tommy, I mean great grandchild. One nip too many for me. 😉

  6. Twanna Rolark says:

    I hope you have a great day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.


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