Octogenarian, Then and Now
Just because someone has already exceeded the eighty years promised in the Bible, does not mean there is nothing more to be contributed to an always new world created by the young and daring, who despite advances of technology, are less free and more dependent and restricted by their modern world ever-new communication devices, Facebook, Twitter, and vagaries created while offering precious little of permanent value.
Using communication as a prime example, most households in the 1930s did not have telephones. An older Irish employer lamented the phone itself, as he recalled that the workday would begin with the mail that would be sorted, classified, and proper action taken, and voilà, the work for the day was done. However, he lamented that now with constant phone interruptions, the work was never done. That embodies the Amish saying, “The faster I go, the behinder I get.”
A grandson doing a project for school had a list of about thirty questions as to my own experiences growing up during the depression years, one of which was, “Were you hungry?” He was stunned by my answer that, “No, I was never hungry,” as there always seemed to be a pot of goulash or stewed chicken creating its own tasty soup used with Mom’s homemade noodles, all exuding delightful aromas as they simmered on the tamped coal stove.
Environmentalists cannot hold a candle to the recycling that was part of our daily routines as nothing was wasted. Paper products were bundled and sold to salvage yards; cans and glass were segregated and sold as well. Even garbage was recycled as nearby Amish farmers came by weekly and actually paid for the slop, presumably to be fed to pigs. Nothing was wasted. Young people today, even those in their fifties, have no idea on real recycling, but in addition, think they invented it, and are going to save the world.
It was rare for families to have automobiles, and the ancient trolley cars ran back and forth down tracks in the middle of streets. There was no payment by e-mail, just old-fashioned now referred to as “Snail Mail,” and a three-cent stamp. My mother in particular, squeezed every penny until it multiplied, and as if by magic, they did seem to multiply, lending further credibility to the axiom, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” as she had the kids walk to the utility companies to pay the bill, cash-in-hand, as there was only a saving account but no checking account, saving the seven cents trolley fare as well.
Everything was about saving which is the highest form of conservation. As to purchasing of food, bargains on dented cans were gobbled up, and as to farm-fresh foods, purchases were delayed until the farmers were closing their stands and would sell chickens, vegetables, fruits, and bakery products at bargain basement prices as they would sell them on the cheap rather than trucking them back home. My father was chief executioner of hapless chickens, and I being the eldest, was assigned the distasteful backup duty. It is true that after the head is chopped off, the chicken can still scamper about wildly.
My father being from Old Europe, knew all about wild mushrooms and which were safe and which were toxic or poisonous, and he knew the best time to find them, and probable locations, meaning we always had gourmet mushrooms that moderns never get to enjoy except at great price. We had to bring our finds to him and he would tell us which to pick and which to avoid.
Savings paid off, as eventually a house was purchased for $500 cash as I recall, and my father could fix anything, rehabbed the house himself and made it better than new, a skill that has eluded me as the only gift I have in that regard is how to use the Yellow Pages. Eventually, a car was purchased for cash, and I wasted no time in getting ticketed for driving in the trolley lane. My father was pretty mad but cooled off after he drove the car over a curb, and then without words, the deal was “I won’t say anything to Mom if you don’t say anything to Mom.” Fools that we were, Mom knew everything.
My father only got to the third grade but my college education taught me precious little compared to what was in his seemingly endless expertise. I must admit that my parents gift for economy and saving bypassed me completely as well, as I tended to regretfully spend first and question later.
But as I began to work after high school, they knew that fact and took my pay, banked it, and allotted me a paltry allowance. The money desperately was itching to burn a hole in my pocket, but after two years there were sufficient savings to send me off to college, no student loan required. That plus part time work and my summer pay earned me a coveted accounting degree that somehow morphed into CPA.
As to play time and recreation, as children we were free to safely go anywhere, climb nearby mountains, explore virgin woods, pick wild berries and fruit, swim in the lake or creek, and walk in any direction we chose. As to baseball in particular, any open lot served as a ballpark and us kids played our own games with our own rules without umpires, adult guidance, interference, or limo service in the back seat of soccer mom’s SUV.
Mom never knew where I was as when I would return, always later than I was supposed to, she would say in Slovak (probably the wrong spelling), “Dze ty bul?” Where were you? Like a scared kid, I would always lie and say somewhere other than where I really was.
My parents never stopped their scrimping and saving, and I never really learned that lesson, as neither has America that spends first, last, and always, and then determines the only way to get out of the financial mess is to spend ever more. My parents would fix that problem pronto with their simple but solid strategy, “If you don’t have the money don’t look in the candy store window,” or exemplified by the, I think Philadelphia PSFS bank motto, “Wishing won’t do it; saving will.”
Mom bought the tiny Rummage Sale property next door, that charged organizations, usually for three days at a time, to hold their rummage sales, and shrewd business woman that she was, lack of formal education notwithstanding, she knew they did not want to haul away unsold remnants, and she got them for virtually pennies, but her keen eye uncovered many valuable artifacts and collectibles.
Lawyers were no match for Mom’s intuitive skills as when a lawyer wanted to purchase several specific items, she assumed the items were more valuable than she thought, so she looked him in the eye and said the items were not for sale, at which point he knew that she knew the value, and then offered a more appropriate price.
Accomplishments of my immigrant parents were the more spectacular in that they came over right at the 1929 Great Depression, having only the clothes on their backs, not knowing the language and customs, but overcame it all to do what I could not do under the same circumstances. Mom scrubbed floors, cleaned houses, took in boarders, and Pop studied English until he finally got a good job in a steel mill where he stayed put until he died.
My youngest brother Jim died of MS but he had wisdom as well, and would say, and this was in the 1960s, “If God gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Another of his quips was, “You can always tell a liberal, but you can’t tell them much,” a phrase he reworded as needed.
My baby sister Anne put herself through nursing school and had a wonderful career of providing compassionate care to those most needing it, and now enjoys her wonderful family, children, and grandchildren, though her husband has come down with a serious illness.
Another younger brother Bill did not attend college but accomplished more than I ever did, as he became an Air Force plane mechanic, went on to I believe was TWA, set up a successful hobby store business before retiring, while I was left to my own Quixotic devices to fight the world that does not know I exist.
Maybe my lack of gifts were the gift, in that I tended to be pompous and proud, that now serves me in good stead in that I can recognize those traits in the fakes I write about, as that is where I excel. I had some accomplishments, but looking at them objectively, I must admit they happened despite myself. I have a history of blundering into situations that are over my head, but somehow, almost miraculously escaped while remaining relatively unscathed.
One of my worst case scenarios occurred when as part of a group, I negotiated a successful acquisition and the first job assigned to me by my two partner associates was to fire the President and V.P. of the acquired company. I should not have done that.
A better result occurred when a year after I was fired from a good job for a computer problem caused by my boss, I was called back in and hired as a consultant to try to fix a computer data storage problem that resulted from their own software division of seven programmers that were unable to fix their problem software.
The only condition I was given, was not to recommend a rewrite the software. I asked two questions, and my boss closed his door as he was having a private meeting. I mentally put my feet up on the desk and sat there doing nothing until the boss came out of his office, and I told him the solution was simple, and all they had to do was to change an input code at time of data entry. He considered the solution and agreed that would do the fix.
They say it is better to be lucky than good, and any success falling my way is due to the fact that I am lazy, and cannot come up with complicated resolutions to problems, so I attach to the obvious in hope I can bluff my way through. It is the reason that my solution to replace ObamaCare is MediCare, an existing proven operation that serves seniors well, so why not include non-seniors. How much simpler can it be? And how much lazier can I get?
In another instance, when working as a consultant in NY City, I solved their computer customer service problem simply because I had a problem with my GM Camaro that was just over the 12,000-mile warranty limit, and when I phoned GM, they immediately knew who I was and the nature of the problem. I told my client that if GM could do that, why couldn’t this company solve their customer service problems their nine service employees could not handle till 90 days later, whereas the problems needed an immediate fix ala GM.
I came up with what I called my “non-filing” filing system, and it worked immediately. I charged the company $25,000 but the Treasurer was taken aback saying, “Al, we could have done that ourselves,” to which I replied, “Yes, but you didn’t,” and he promptly ordered my check to be cut. The point is that I stumbled into situations and answers as opposed to having studied problems and thought them out.
You’ve got to be a fake to know one, and I think I have the gift of spotting and identifying fakes as soon as they open their mouths. Question: “How do you know when a politician is lying?” Answer: “When their mouth is moving.” I desperately try to avoid that old lying syndrome of mine.
My parents, though we’ve had our share of brouhahas, were wise beyond their formal educations, and only if I and the rest of America can follow their example rather than that of the 540 charlatans, pretenders, and wannabes, that are running this once great county into and under the ground. God Bless my parents and the country they truly loved, unlike many immigrants today that come only to get unearned benefits without giving anything back.