The recession lingers. The number of penny-poor people who lost their jobs or were cut back on wages is still high. Nothing new here — there was a similar recession in 1973-1974. During that time the Dow Jones lost 45 percent of its value and the unemployment rate nearly doubled.
In 1974 I got fired from my job as a piano and electric organ salesman. Couldn’t sell a worm to a starving fisherman. Sam and I applied for food stamps, rented a cheap house and furnished it with garage sale specials. Friends gave us a throwaway couch infested with crickets. Early one morning the air-filled frame of our waterbed popped, instantly deflated, and the self-contained water-filled center slid off its wooden pedestal and dumped us on the floor. We got up, dusted ourselves off, went out and bought another waterbed mattress for $10.
The OPEC oil embargo brought on gas rationing. If your license plate ended in an even number, you bought gas on even-numbered days. If it ended in an odd number, you could fill up on odd-numbered days. No gas on weekends. Long lines of cars waited at discount gas stations.
Sam pumped gas for minimum wage at an all-girls discount station. We bought boatloads of beans and rice with our $80 a month of food stamps. For entertainment we went to an occasional movie. I would heat up a two-for-$1 chicken pot pie, dump it over a bed of rice, seal it in a Tupperware container and pick up Sam after work at the gas station. She would sneak her dinner into the movie theater in an oversized purse.
We kept our cars running with wrecking yard parts and help from handy friends. For vacations we camped out in national and state parks and slept in the back of Sam’s van.
In a time of frugal living we learned the value of denying our consumer impulses. But we had weaknesses: Every few months we bought several new record albums — soul food. We were also hooked on driving and burning gas, exploring the countryside in search of our dream property. We longed to live on a secluded five acres.
When things look bleak, dreams lighten the load. Our dream had drawn us from California to Oregon to start a new life together, and like a strong magnet, that same dream gradually pulled us into the future, no matter how little money we had. Keeping the dream alive was more important than having the money to realize it. After all, a dream is an imaginary future that costs nothing to own.
But certain things threaten dreams: depression, lack of faith, severe illness, uncertainty. More than anything, though, greed and impatience will drain off the lifeblood of a dream. Isn’t that what caused the downfall of the corporate giants? Inflated values, overfed fat cats, risky loans — all driven by desire for instant gratification. But greed for immediate profit depletes future resources — until the future becomes due and payable.
The best thing about lean times is their ability to teach patience and self-control. So tend your future dreams carefully. Someday, sooner than you think, you’ll be living them.