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As a child I sometimes heard adults talk about a place called the “poor house.”
I didn’t know what it was or where it was, although I envisioned it somewhere near Waddy, which seemed like a place across the universe to a kid who grew up near Simpsonville.
The poor house was amorphous, but it was also scary. It sounded dark and forbidding and where kids wouldn’t be welcome.
Did families really have to live there? Did you have your own room or get to eat special deserts on Sundays? Was it really a house or more like – I don’t know – a barn? If a kid went there, would he stay with his family? Would he have clothes? Would he lose his baseball glove?
Conjure the darkest places in the darkest kids’ novels, and that was to me the poor house. When you heard those words, worry was immediately tapping you on the shoulder.
And I heard it often, usually as adults discussed how to cope with economic difficulties. If you don’t pay your bills, you go to the poor house. From parents, teachers, a friend at church or the next farm over, it seemed as real as school on weekdays and church on Sundays.
A boy listens and learns that being fiscally fit is an imperative, although admittedly the reality of adulthood often brings the poor house to the front of your mind more often than you would like to admit.
So today I’m a little afraid: If we fall off the “fiscal cliff” and land in “sequestration,” is that the same as going to the poor house?
For some people, federal budget cuts could most assuredly be the path to the poor house, depending on which bits of rhetoric you want to digest. I don’t begin to understand the nuances of how the federal budget works and why our leaders have made the ridiculous decisions they have, but I envision the poor house, and I don’t want anyone to go there.
Maybe some of our elected leaders haven’t heard about the poor house. Maybe they forgot what they heard. Maybe they don’t care. That’s most likely, I would think. Politics tends to win over responsibility.
That’s why I really don’t expect much from government, and I have little faith in any individual to recog the machine that feels so hopelessly running amok, sort of like an awful subplot from Terminator. (At least, this machine certainly feels like it’s rising to take over from the humans.)
If the taxes I pay can educate my children, protect my family, pave my roads, recycle my garbage and feed and clothe those who can’t do it for themselves, then I really couldn’t ask for more. Anything else is a gift.
I doubt most of us who grew up in Shelby County ever conceived or even understood what was above living a middle-class life. Don’t you recall when simply owning a piece of land or your own home was the greatest measurement of success? Didn’t you revel in the shiny wonder of a new used car? Didn’t you think hand-me-downs that were clean still could be cool?
Anything above that was sort of Beverly Hillbillies and dream world. It didn’t seem like reality or something you could attain. You simply just viewed it as someone else’s life and barely even tried it on for size.
When I was small, my Uncle Pat would visit our farm on weekends and bring me precious gifts from his city life. He graciously provided an ever-expanding supply of baseballs, footballs, gloves, bats, golf clubs and all manner of coaching and advice.
All that was stuff I couldn’t have purchased at Allied Sporting Goods or even Bobby Stratton’s store. I was lucky and appreciated it and never expected any of it. My needs were met.
That didn’t keep me from going to those stores and browsing through sporting goods, pounding my fist in every glove, dribbling basketballs, putting new bats on my shoulders and golf clubs in my hands – another browser could have been in trouble – but those were part of the world of dreams. It was stuff I would like to have had but not stuff I ever thought I would have or should have.
Now it seems we think dreams are our rights. We expect that each of us should be above the middle class. Some people wait around for Uncle Sam to drop by on the weekend and hand out the stuff that validates their lives. Others want to take away Uncle Sam’s car altogether.
Thus, an ideology aisle separates our needs from our wants. We argue about things that don’t matter and overlook the gifts that truly do.
And every decision our leaders make seems to get us closer to that awful, dark poor house. It’s as if they all have forgotten those whispers and lessons from their youth, too. They talk of the “cliff” and “sequestration.” Doesn’t the concept of being sequestered sound like the poor house to you?
So here’s my new idea for settling all of this: Let’s use the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton approach.
Let’s give a pistol – licensed, of course, but not semiautomatic – to one member of each side, and let the last person standing determine our future plans.
You can bet those who do the most talking wouldn’t be volunteering to take a bullet for, oh, political honor.
And you can bet the winners will know not to turn their backs on the other side, lest they wind up in the poor house.