The Great American Toilet

Mom Life / Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

When my children leave an uneaten plate of food or a half-filled glass of milk lying on the table, I often tell them they might as well take our grocery money and flush it down the toilet.

I’m sure they feel that other, more youthful and liberal parents might not speak quite the same way. But I suppose it’s one of the perks of being the primary school-aged offspring of a later life parent.

However, to accuse me of extremism would be unfair. My father, who grew up in the desperate food scarcity of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, wouldn’t allow us to leave the dinner table until every scrap he dished up to us was gratefully consumed.

“When we were kids, we were lucky,” he’d rail at us, shaking an admonishing forefinger,” if we got a piece of bread and a bowl of beans for supper.”

He was referring to how he and his 4 brothers would endure the cold Ontario winters, with little warm food to thaw their growing bodies. He’d reminisce about how the neighbors would share food, just to keep the hunger at bay.

It was the philosophy of “Stone Soup” taught in so many schools today, made real through Necessity, the proclaimed Mother of Invention.

Unfortunately, while we tried to be grateful, we couldn’t imagine that level of want. What’s more, it was a challenge to enjoy our repast when it was delivered with a moralizing lecture.

On “fried liver night,” however, our gratitude became as scarce as hot dinners in the Great Depression.

I remember on one such occasion, when I was about my 8-year-old son’s age, I’d snuck away to my room, leaving the plate of uneaten food to fester at room temperature, deserted and forlorn.

Within the hour, I found myself frog-marched back to the table and left to sit before the congealing mess on the plate with the same enjoyment of watching paint peel.

I still refused to eat it. The stand-off seemed to last for hours, until finally, he grunted resentfully and sent me off to bed.

I’ve never forgotten it.

Nowadays it looms even more often in my mind as the American consciousness sinks into the toilet of economic scarcity, of fear and of terrible losses for so many.

Not one of us is exempt from watching shrinking incomes disappearing between our fingers. Rapacious big-name employers scrape away at our benefits and salaries (because they can), become niggardly with rewards, enforce slave labor while hanging the fear of being fired over our heads like the sword of Damocles.

Homes, among the thousands, lie empty across the country, their windows barren like the eyes of the dead, without souls within. For those of us still hanging on for grim death, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing our equity flushed away below the break-even line, trapped from ever selling.

And nowhere is it worse than in California, the state that frightens away business like a wolf in a chicken pen.

Younger parents, perhaps, do not feel the cold threat of real hardship whistling through their ribs because they’ve never tasted it. They just know that “things are bad”.

But I have another adage for my children when they complain too often or too long: “It can always be worse!”

My father knew that. For better or worse, he passed that knowledge onto me. I realize how little there is standing between us, our children, and the loss of a secure way of life.

But perhaps, the lesson is that security is only illusory.

Through the Great Depression, they found a way to survive. Forged in the challenge of a desperate economy, they learned: “This too shall pass.”

Notes for this blog: More info found at ACHILDAFTER40.COM

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