Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy: Fear has no fangs unless you have something to lose

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States, told the American people in his first inaugural address that the only thing to fear was fear itself. He uttered those words at a time when the nation’s economy was going down, headed for what history would prove to be some of the bleakest times for our nation. People were afraid, afraid of hard times, afraid of losing their homes and their jobs, worried that they might not have enough money to buy milk and bread to feed their families.

Those same worries are common today. Raised on stories of the Great Depression, shaped by parents and grandparents who survived those hard times and lean years, the current economic downturn feels like something I have rehearsed for all my life. I am frugal, influenced no doubt by my Granny, who saved rubber bands, margarine tubs and glass pickle jars. I have followed my parents’ example to save money, to squirrel away spare cash for a rainy day and to pay cash for major purchases if I can. 

As a child who listened at the feet of her elders, I know the stories and memories by heart, almost as if they are my own, not borrowed history. I remember how my grandmother could not buy a gravestone for her infant daughter who was born and died on the same day in 1933 -- until she became a widow in 1971. She spent a portion of the money she received to finally put a permanent stone to mark Shirley Ann’s grave. I recall well the story about my great-uncle who spent his wages from a day job digging ditches on potatoes so that he could feed his family more than a single day. I have heard about the house that my grandfather lost in Hastings, Neb.

My maternal grandmother grew up in luxury and comfort, in a huge brick house and when she was a senior in the spring of 1932, her future was bright. She had enrolled in the University of Missouri at Columbia, poised to study and had a summer job lined up working at the Missouri State Capitol. Instead, her father’s sewing machine business failed, the bank where he kept his money failed, and so their home was lost along with most of her possessions including her own car, a rarity at the time. She went from living well to living with relatives, a bitter old uncle who begrudged her every bite of food she ate.

I remember well a rainy day when I was 12 or so, a day when my cousin and I huddled in the little bedroom above Granny’s kitchen. We talked then, in 1974, about our fears that someday we might face our own Great Depression. Our concerns were not surprising since we knew the family stories as well or better than we knew the litany of the saints.

We grew up, we graduated from college, and we built lives. More than a year ago, however, we both began seeing the signs of a weakening economy, indications that prosperity was fading away and that the American dream was in danger of becoming a waking nightmare. Yet in the media, little was said until early this year when it seemed that the looming “recession” burst out of nowhere into the public mindset.

I am always frugal. In 2008, a year that I fear will go down in history as the season when the American economy unraveled, I have shifted into miserly mode, into slacking off unnecessary purchases and trimming costs where I can.

Fear has no fangs unless you have something to lose, and I do.

Neosho Daily News