This is the house where my parents brought me after I was born. My mother was probably twenty-one when this picture was taken. It wasn’t their house; they lived in an apartment located in her parents’ century-old farmhouse. The outer walls were seven bricks thick as it had no insulation in the modern sense. The basement was carved out of bedrock and looked and felt like a cave to me. It still had a working coal chute, a big side tank for heating oil and a hunk of lead that my grandfather used as a front door stop and would chip chunks out of to make sinkers for his fishing poles.
This is my parents first home that they owned. It was a standard, three bedroom, two bath of the age and it was built from scratch for them. During one visit to the site, I fell under the subfloor into the crawl space, and my panicked progenitors couldn’t find me for half an hour. The story is that they had to purchase a television set and make payments on it for six months in order to establish enough credit to get a bank loan. In those times, their parents warned them against the pitfalls of using credit and paid cash for everything. The house cost three thousand dollars. My dad made a little less than a hundred dollars a week at the factory, and my mom stayed at home with my brother and me. When they bought a car on credit, she went to work in the county clerk’s office to help pay for it. We had some nights when dinner was toasted cheese and tomato soup, but we didn’t want for anything. We just didn’t have all the trinkets kids did today. We had a bike and a ball and bat. There was a baseball field next to the house, and all the neighborhood kids played pick up games there. One Christmas, we received football uniforms with helmets, pads and all. That was a big deal. We had a black and white TV set for years. I remember when they financed the color console. There were four channels.
This is the next house my parents built. It was also their last, and they still reside in it, albeit reluctantly. It cost them $32,000, and they did much of the work themselves. I pounded many of those shingles into place and helped my dad hand a lot of drywall. They could afford this house because Dad had finally given up trying to sell insurance and went back to the factory. A much better factory, though, owned by General Motors. After a few years, he went into management as a shop foreman. It was a time when a guy could make $18-$24 an hour putting a nut in a bolt, and a lot of guys put their twenty-five years in and then went out and started their own businesses with a big fat pension to fall back on. Most of my friends expected to come out of high school and go right into the factories just like their brothers had. After all, there were twenty-seven plants in my town alone. Of the seventy thousand who lived there, seventeen thousand worked at those plants. My folks lived in their first home for ten years before they started on this one. Seven years after building this home, it all went to shit. My dad was out of work for two years. My mom was lucky enough to get a job with a local grocery chain and smart enough to eventually become the HR coordinator. Still, we almost lost everything. I lost my chance at a co-op paying $18 an hour and a paid up college education.
It was inevitable. America was living in a sweet spot, and the ball only makes contact in the sweet spot once in a while. The America my parents grew up in was an anomaly.