Hard times, come again no more
The intermittent drum of an unseen woodpecker drifts across the woods in back as if from a construction zone. Finally, I catch sight of a small black, white and red bird moving in a big sweet gum tree. I raise the binoculars I keep on my desk and confirm, as I suspected, it is a downy woodpecker.
He’s an industrious little fellow, and I admire his efforts.
As I fight the morning fog (in my head, not out my window), my thoughts drift until they finally land on another hard worker.
That’s my sister, Debbie. But right now, my sister isn’t working, except in the very real sense of the unemployed scrambling to find a job.
She was a vice president for a group that puts on a world-class sporting event each year, and she bore most of the effort of getting that event off the ground each year. But when that group, the Breeder’s Cup, merged with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association a few years back, the Breeder’s Cup employees began to be cut. My sister was the last of them. Her job was eliminated last year.
She found interim work in Washington, D.C., for six months, but now that that gig is up, and she is lost.
Used to a salary double to triple mine, now she is having to make due on unemployment. Like many others out there, she wonders if she will lose her house. And like so many, she’s already lost much of the money she put aside for her retirement.
There’s an edge in her voice when I talk to her these days.
She is considering dropping her high blood pressure medicine because it is an expensive, name-brand kind. It’s the same one I take, because, for us, the generic ones we’ve tried have had serious side effects and weren’t effective.
In phone calls, I beg her to stay on it. Without it, I think, the pressures she is under could kill her.
I have also quietly let my niece, my sister’s eldest child, know that Debbie isn’t in as good a shape financially as she may be letting on. My sister is a proud woman who will be angry if she finds out what I’ve done, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Being the youngest of the two of us, I’m used to being a thorn in her side. But I also have that younger sister’s love and admiration of my oldest sibling.
I remember when she was young and still married to her ex. There were times when he was laid off from his construction job, and she would work three jobs to make ends meet. One of those jobs was to pay for child care, because her then-husband couldn’t be bothered to watch their two small children.
That’s the kind of worker my sister is.
I share all this with you, even though I’ll never share this column with my sister, because I think it is important to put a face on this economic downturn. Recession. Depression. I’m sure many of you have different faces you could substitute.
That there are people even worse off than my sister, of that I have no doubt. More are slipping into the ranks of the unemployed every day.
At the race tracks in Kentucky where my sister used to set up big events, they often play a popular Stephen Foster song, “My Old Kentucky Home.“
But is another well-known Foster song that has been playing in my head more often, just as it is this morning.
“Hard times, come again no more.”