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A younger me...



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Background: I'm a boomer, not a depression era kid (it was my parents who lived through that mess). So I'm exaggerating when I state that the "Great Depression" ran into the late 50's where I grew up. But I do remember going to bed hungry, dreaming of food, because there was literally nothing to eat. The family's grocery problem was eventually solved through the good graces of a religious charity, the assistance of friends and neighbors, the perseverance of my parents, and more than a little luck.

I grew up in a small rural town. So while I never lived on a farm or ranch, I worked on quite a few, beginning with my first round-up at age 6. Over the years, I hired out, picking weeds, rocks and potatoes. I thinned beets (like chopping cotton, but with sugar beets). I cleaned manure from barns... with a shovel, dug irrigation ditches with a pick and shovel, broke and stacked rock by hand in a quarry, worked the harvests on hands and knees. After my parents moved to an even smaller town (population 250), I became the local paper boy. I branded cattle (you can't smell burnt hair when you watch a movie... but the stench is unforgettable). During some of my teen year summers, a friend and I would work twelve or more hours a day... from sun up 'til noon at one farm, then after lunch until sun-down at a different farm. I milked cows, worked back-to-back 8 hour shifts at two different agricultural processing plants loading boxcars and then moving the boxcars by hand (yes, it can be done, but it requires teamwork and is daggone difficult).

And then there were the less pleasant jobs, cleaning the "cull bin," the tin lined tank holding tons of rotten, slimy potatoes... sold as the feedstock for laundry starch. Hauling dead, bloated cattle from the feed lot where I prepped and delivered the slop (a mix containing chopped hay, silage [rotting vegetation that literally boiled as it fermented], tallow [rendered beef fat], wood chips, and mineral pellets) we fed the cattle to fatten them... and you wondered why I'm not terribly fond of beef?

And due to my spineless refusal to stand up to pure peer pressure, I rode a bull in the local rodeo. And to ensure I had a "good" ride, the hands juiced it with the farm equivalent of a Taser... and that put the wee beastie in such a pleasant mood that he invited me to dinner... as the main course.

When I was born, my parents lived in what began its intended existence as a chicken coop. Later as the family grew, we moved... a lot. The family lived in the basement of a log cabin (it's still there, though stucco now camouflages the logs), and in a "mobile-home" so small that for years I hot bunked with a brother, and had one drawer and 18" of closet space to call my own. So, yes, I'm "trailer trash"... among other things.

The summer between my Sophomore and Junior high school years, I lived in the desert and moved miles of irrigation pipe by hand. I shared with a friend, a 14 foot travel trailer, with no A/C, no refrigerator, no shower, no restroom, no running water, no phone, no TV, we had a radio, but the reception was poor. The closest running water was ¼ mile away, the closest phone 15 miles away, and with the temperature at times 105°F in the shade, the nearest shade was as close as the nearest phone. The closest neighbors, like us, worked in the desert, and lived in another trailer two miles away on the edge of another field. The owner came out Saturday night, shut down operations, brought us into town for shower, dinner, church, and then Sunday night, it was back to the desert.

And I was thankful I had the job. It paid my expenses for my next year of public school. And the alternatives were worse.

In my case, I believe those early lean times provided a wee-bit of incentive to not let those circumstances repeat themselves... I really dislike going hungry. So, as there was no silver spoon... we made do. I got new shoes (actually rubber soled leather work boots because they lasted longer) once a year just before they rotted apart. And my clothes were often decades older than me... what we called "hand-me-downs".

But I was lucky. I had clothes; usually ate on a regular basis; got a bath once a week in a tin wash tub, whether it was needed or wanted; got medical treatment for the slices, dices and broken bones that would have crippled me, treament for the diseases that, left untreated, would have killed me; and had the opportunity to go to school. That was an opportunity I seized with both hands and did not let go.

I am by nature inherently lazy... given the choice between digging ditch with pick and shovel at $0.10/hour or sitting behind a desk writing software at hundreds of times that hourly rate... I no longer dig ditches.

I'm not asking for sympathy... there were millions of kids out there who grew up in worse circumstances, with less luck, less opportunity, and more mayhem, murder and brutality in their environment. And there still are. But, I would also be lying if I claimed the circumstances of my childhood had no influence on my attitudes.

As a result, I have little patience for anyone who fails in life for lack of effort. Yes, I agree, luck plays a huge part of success in life, but from my perspective, so does hard work and attitude. There are a great many quotes on the subject, that when summarized boil down to: "Luck favors the prepared, and preparation is obtained by hard work." I concur. There's nothing quite like the disappointment that results from missing an opportunity because I did not do the necessary prepatory work required to take advantage of it.

I agree there are many people out there who are worse off than myself through no fault of their own.

But there are also a great many out there who scam the system, deny any responsibility for their actions and expect someone else to clean up their messes, fix their problems, and pay their bills... all the while not inconveniencing them while they continue the actions that caused the problems in the first place... I know, because I am related, in great many round-about ways, to some of those folk...

And a one-size-fits-all government solution cannot distinguish the one from the other. Furthermore from my perspective, government attempts to fix the problems caused by denial of personal responsibility, makes the problem worse as any good book on Austrian Economics will explain.

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Revised 2013.04.05 © 1997..2013 by Keith S. Brown