My family story
My Honey and I, having been one of the many who have been laid off from work in 2007, are eking out a living in this recession. We have found some peace in the way our families have lived through the tough times and would like to share them with you.
I had grown up with the notion that we could have whatever our hearts desired. My dad was a second generation carpenter who had enjoyed a lucrative housing boom in the Midwest during my youth. Christmas and birthdays were always laden with gifts and we were never without new clothes for school. In the late 1970's, the housing market slowed and we found ourselves moving West where the work was. My parents enjoyed camping so we had a boat, camper, dirt bikes, and a new Super Cab pickup truck to pull the toys with. We camped every weekend, almost without fail.
By 1982, my parents had found themselves in a credit nightmare. The housing market came to a complete halt and Dad had to find work outside of our town. They had to sell their toys and rent out our "Little House on the Prairie". We moved into a dilapidated trailer house on our friend’s property. I think it was very humiliating for my parents to have to do it but we thank God for our friends in our time of need. The trailer was no longer livable and mainly housed an army of mice. I think it had been used as a type of hunting lodge of sorts and as a wood working shed. The walls were paper thin compared to the house we had been living in. The floors were covered in saw dust and it had no toilet or septic tank. While my parents cleaned out the trailer for us to live in, our family of 4 made do in our camp trailer.
I remember the summer my Mom and Dad worked on that trailer. They had to clean the rubbish from the house by the bucketful. Stinking, mouse turd infested garbage flew from the back door, while my little sister and I played in the weedy yard outside. I remember my parents telling us not to come in the house while they worked for fear we might get sick from the fumes. But rebellious as I was, I rarely listened to them. The smell of filthy sawdust in the house will always remain in my memory. My mom found dead birds hung up in a closet left behind by the hunters. It was a nightmare; however, I never once heard my parents complain. I think they were so grateful for the free housing. They really had no place else to go.
Another thing my parents had to do was dig a hole for the septic tank. My dad had to dig a 6’x6’x6’ hole in the ground beside the trailer by hand because we could not afford to hire someone to do it, or even to rent the equipment. The soil in the area was compacted ash. Great for growing crops but hell on your back if you have to dig a hole. In the spring while it is wet, it is soft and pliable. But in the summer, when the soil is baked by the sun, it gets compacted together and resembles cement. When the dirt is disturbed it doesn’t hold together but becomes a fine powder. A shovel cannot break through the hard soil so my dad used a pick to dig with and then a shovel to move dirt out of the hole. My sister recounts the story when she bugged my dad to give her a job to do. He handed her a shovel and told her to go dig the hole. Her desire to help lasted about 10 minutes and Dad was back to swinging the pick again.
To us kids, it didn't seem long and we were moving in to the trailer. The camp trailer was no longer needed so it was sold. My mom tells me how she had to make do on $500.00 per month, how she learned to stretch a whole chicken into 4 meals, how she had to drive an old beat up Chevy truck to work every day, and how she hated driving it during a rain storm when the muddy water splashed up through the floorboards and ruined many of her skirts. She tells us about the times when her and Dad, while watching TV at night, could hear the mice scurry behind their chairs to get to the kitchen, and how when we came home one day to find two mice swimming in the dishwater she had forgotten to drain before leaving the house for the day. She made our clothes and toys for Christmas and birthdays. Through it all, I never heard her complain about our plight. Now when the stories are told, they laugh about it like it was a great adventure they went through and she surprises me with the truth of how they struggled.
For us kids, it was a great adventure. We had no idea that we were poor. We could care less were we lived. The trailer was situated against huge shady trees that helped to keep the trailer cool in the hot summer afternoons. We rarely spent our days in the trailer during summer anyway. The property sat in the middle of alfalfa fields and many of the neighbors had livestock. We learned how alfalfa is turned into hay bales by watching the farmer process it right by our trailer. We enjoyed watching his cows munch on the leftovers after he had removed the bales. We played along the banks of the stream that ran through the fields. A large irrigation ditch that ran near the property became a cool place to spend the day in the summer and a mysterious place to play in the winter. To me it was heaven on earth. (Disclaimer: Playing near ditches is dangerous! Every year children and adults die in irrigation canals. We do not endorse playing in or near canals.)
In the beginning of our trailer adventure, my dad had found a construction job in the middle of nowhere, building houses for the workers of a mining company. It was the only work he could find and it was far enough away that he had to live there during the week and drive home to be with us over the weekend. I barely remember this because my days were filled with school. The houses he built were in a gated community and when ever he needed workers, he would have to tell the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper would then allow workers in to apply for the job. Dad says he remembers interviewing a couple of guys from Minnesota and some people from California who had trekked all the way into the mountains to look for work.
The strain of having to travel and the uncertainty of the housing market finally forced Dad to go back to school. I remember thinking how weird it was that my adult father was going to school. He decided to become a computer technician and was able to get a grant to pay for his books. The first computer we owned was built by my Dad.
After 3 years of living in the trailer, we were able to move back to our house while dad was going to school. It was a glorious thing to have my own room again! After Dad graduated from the Technical College, it took him another 4 years to pay off the school grant then he rode on the coat tails of the Technical age. They still struggled with managing their money but their experience helped to keep them on the straight and narrow in regards to credit. Their faith in God helped them through the tough times.
When my Honey and I realized we were losing our job, we were both scared. Scared that we might not be able to find another job, scared that we might have to sell our possessions, our cars, maybe even lose our house. We were afraid we might have to move away from our family to find work and afraid of what might happen if we could not feed our kids. We were able to find a job that helps us make ends meet; however, we are always uncertain as the company could dissolve at any time.
The fears are real but we have learned that God is in control and whenever we become unsure as to how we are going to pay a bill, He provides. He provided when my parents lost nearly everything and He brought them through those times. I believe he will do the same for us.
I have learned that fear is the absence of trust and that there is no room for it in my relationship with Christ.
I have been reminded that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. " Psalm 46:1&2