E Pluribus Mores

It’s a Wonderful Life

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Ken and Rebertha (I think).   They were neighbors.   Not the have-over-for-barbeque kind of neighbors, but we would exchange pleasantries, occasionally stop and chat.  I helped push Rebertha’s car out of a snow bank a couple times.  On Halloween they would give whatever candy was left at the end of the night to my kids.  You know, neighbors.  They stood out a bit in the neighborhood.  For one thing they were African American.  There are some predominately black neighborhoods five or six blocks down, but on our block only Ken and Rebertha.  There was also always something going on at their house.  I know they have at least one daughter my son’s age, but there always seemed to be a half dozen kids doing stuff:  a lemonade sale, free car wash, water fights, kiddie pools, bikes, scooters, sidewalk games, snow forts.  The other day I passed by their home and there was a pile of boxes and discarded household goods on the right of way, and a for sale sign in front of the house.

Now I don’t know what happened.  I’m not even sure I have Rebertha’s name right.  I know their older son had been in trouble.  I saw the cop cars, and I followed what passes for gossip in the neighborhood.  I know they had a fire in their kitchen not so long ago.  It could be they moved to a more desirable neighborhood or left town for better jobs.  But what I thought when I passed by was that Ken worked at the Sub Zero refrigerator factory in town, and I wondered in the current state of the economy how many folks were buying luxury refrigerators.  Rebertha worked for the school district as a teacher’s aide.  I know the governor recently made some cuts in school funding.  “Belt tightening” he called it.

Not too far back K and I had some financial problems.  I work as a lecturer at a small college; K runs her own consulting business.  We were both working, but making less than we had been.  Kids, credit cards:  stuff happens.  There was a point when I realized we just weren’t going to make it.  I know lots of people have gone through this, but there is a moment when you are just standing there, staring off into the abyss.  I don’t much like to think of it, but I recall it was a lonely place.  And a long way down.  When I finally got up the nerve to call the parents and in-laws, in they rode, cut us some exceedingly large checks.  That and some creative refinancing with the local credit union, and problem solved.  They didn’t judge us or scold us.  Just the help.  It was like in the Christmas film.   I rediscovered over and over what it means to live with the love of my life.  And whatever we had done wrong with our finances, we had gotten it all right with our kids:  caring, independent, talented, funny as hell.  Then there were the friends of all stripes, folks at work looking out for me, neighbors.  Outside of Clarence, it felt pretty much like the final scene from It’s a Wonderful Life.

But what I thought about when I walked by Ken and Rebertha’s house was perhaps they, like us, had gotten into trouble.  But perhaps there hadn’t been anyone to ride into town.  No one looking out for them at work.  Not even a neighbor to ask what had happened.  Just a pile of boxes on the right of way.  I thought about what would have happened if K and I had actually lost our jobs?  What if our financial institutions had taken the opportunity to swindle us instead of help? What if our family and community hadn’t been there?   If we had turned on each other?  Every man for himself.  We could call it “belt tightening.”  I don’t much like to think of that world, but know it would be a lonely place.  And a long way down.

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  1. Everyone has a story, and most of them are closer to the edge than we think. Looking out for each other is important, but sometimes even when you look, the signs are deeply hidden, out of guilt, shame, fear.

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