Friday, January 29, 2010

Were the "Good Old Days" really that Good?

A few days ago, my wife and I were having a conversation with my oldest son who has been living with us now for about six months. Of course we love our son and back six months ago we asked him to move in with us until he got himself another job.

Now my son is a welder and had a good job with North River Boats for several years. The company was flourishing until the owner got caught embezzling company funds and falsifying company documents. Anyway, to make a long story short... The company ended up laying off the whole work crew.

Now the job situation in Oregon is not good and I realize that my son has been doing everything he can to get employment. But it seems like every time we discuss his situation, it always ends up with him telling us that we had it so much better back in the days when we were working (Good old Days) and raising the family.

Well...Did we? I recall, back in the 60's and early 70's, when my wife and I just started out on our own, there were a few obstacles we had to overcome. First of all, I was still in the Navy so my wife had to live in a small apartment while I was stationed overseas. My wife was working full time so with her income and the modest income I was making we still had a hard time making ends meet.

I remember, after a few years in the Navy, I finally got transferred to shore duty at the Naval Air Station located in Alameda, California. My wife and I were so excited about making the move from our hometown in Oregon.

We went out and bought ourselves a good running used car for about $300.00 and rented a small U-haul trailer to pack all of our worldly possessions. I still recall pulling that small U-haul trailer, packed full of our household items, over the mountain passes. There were a few times that I didn't think our little car would make it up some of the hills and I thought our brakes wouldn't hold up going down several of the steep grades. But we finally made it there in one piece.

It is sort of funny, now looking back on it, how we actually survived on only my income. I remember us looking around for a place to rent, but all of the apartments and houses were way to expensive for us. Finally we located a small house which was converted from a chicken coupe out in the country near Handford. It was very small, maybe 12'x16', but it was within our price range. The older folks that rented the house to us were so nice and treated us like one of their family.

I fondly remember our first Christmas there. We went out to a Christmas tree lot and ended up buying a little fir tree that hardly had any limbs. But that was the only one we could afford. Anyways, we taped a few more limbs to it and put on a string of Christmas lights. Now that was the cutest little Christmas tree I every saw when it was evening time and its lights were on.

I also remember the problems we had with sugar ants always getting into our food. I guess the ants still felt that it was a chicken coupe. And the drinking water had the smell of sulfur in it, but we were instructed by our landlord to keep a pitcher of water for drinking overnight in the refrigerator and the sulfur gases would dissipate. But this was our first house together and we called it home.

I remember that between paydays my wife and I would go out and walk up and down the roads collecting beer and pop bottles to get the deposit money so we could buy food. It is amazing how many ways you can prepare pancake mix and fix hamburger helper.

After a year or so of shore duty, I was discharged from active duty. How exciting that was. Both my wife and I were out of a job but we had managed to save up a little money for emergencies. The plan was, to move back to Oregon and I would attend the community college in Pendleton under the GI bill. One other thing I might mention is that my wife was about seven or eight months pregnant with our oldest son.

We located an apartment in Pendleton where we called home. I wasted no time in going out looking for a job so I could support my family. Maybe back in the 70's the job situation was better, I don't know, but I do know that I spent hours going from one business to another asking if they had any job openings. Finally I landed a job at Kern's Furnishing Company in Pilot Rock. Boy, I sure was excited! The pay was low to start out, but at least it was a paycheck.

My wife and I began looking around for a house to buy. I had always been told that when you rented you were just flushing your money down the toilet, that home ownership was the way too go. We located a small two bedroom house in Pilot Rock for about $7,500.00. It was such a cute little house with a white picket fence. We both fell in love with it. After signing a private contract with the owners of the house we became proud homeowners ourselves.

My wife and I called this little house "home" for about three years. Being just about newly weds, my wife and I experience good and bad times in this little house. But what a blessing it was that we were able to work things out and stay together.

I still remember my wife going into the hospital in Pendleton for the delivery of my oldest son. How excited I was to be a daddy and just the thought of it swelled up tears of joy in my eyes. After our son was born, we were so excited to get him home where we could start being parents. We had his bedroom all fixed up with little toys all over the place. He was our first born and we named him after me. I still remember us using our credit card to pay off the hospital and doctor bill of about $350.00 for the delivery.

After our son was about a year old, my wife decided that in order to keep up with our monthly bills, she needed to find a job. Our budget was getting a little tight even though I was still going to college and working full time. I had always felt that it was my job to go out and bring home the paycheck, but after talking it over with my wife, the only way we could get ahead was if both of us were working.

My wife ended up getting a job at the same furniture company where I had first worked. I was now working at Georgia Pacific lumber mill that was located down the road from Kern's Furniture Company. My wife worked really hard and I was so grateful to her because I was getting worn out from a lack of sleep. I finally quit my night time job at the saw mill to concentrate on my daytime college courses. So between the money that my wife made at Kern's Furniture Company and the money I got under the GI bill, we were able to just squeak by from month to month.

Now we could not afford to hire someone to baby set our son, so I invited my younger brother, who was sixteen years old to come and stay with us. My younger brother had dropped out of school and was having a hard time finding work. So this arrangement worked out great for us. My brother would help us around the house and look after our son while my wife was working and I was going to school.

My wife continued to work until she was about seven or eight months pregnant with our second (middle) son. By that time I had finished my studies at the community college and was looking for my first job as a police officer. My wife was really excited about quiting her job and being able to stay home with our son and soon to be second son. By now our first son was about two years old and I can remember leaving him with my brother while I took off to the hospital to watch our second son being born. I still recall how excited I was, now I had two son's and a loving wife, what more could I ask for?

Towards the end of the year, after our second son was born, I got hired on as a policeman for the city of Umitilla. I recall how excited I was. I had quit my job at Georgia Pacific where I was making about $810.00 a month to work as a policeman for the city of Umitilla for about $390.00 a month.

Now in order to work as a policeman in Umitilla, we had to live within the city limits. That meant we had to sell our house in Pilot Rock because we could not afford to hold on to it and live in Umitilla at the same time. Well, to make a long story short, we ended up giving the house in Pilot Rock back to the owners and lost out on any equity that we had in it.

My wife and I rented a house in Umatilla for a few months before buying our second house located in a very nice neighborhood there. Our house had just been renovated and even had central air and heat. We just loved our new home and my job as a police officer was what I had always wanted. Of course being I took such a large pay cut in accepting this dream job, we had a hard time making ends meet because our mortgage payments were double that of our house payments in Pilot Rock.

Thinking that we were going to be staying in the little town of Umitilla for several years, my wife decided to go back to work. I don't think she really wanted too, but we really needed a little more money to make ends meet. My wife was excited about getting a job at one of the local banks instead of another lumber mill job.

Everything seemed good for us until the Chief of Police resigned and left me to handle the police department by myself. Of course the city counsel promised to get me help, but like any other form of government, they were not in a big hurry. For some reason they felt that being I was doing such a good job handling things by myself, there was no hurry to hire on a new chief of police.

After talking it over with my wife, I decided to quit my job because it was just getting too much for me to handle. I started working at a machine shop which paid a little better then I was getting as a policeman. It was great to be working day shifts and being able to be home with my family at night time.

I had already made up my mind that I wanted to stay in the law enforcement field, so I began sending out resume's to all of the police departments in Oregon. I ended up getting hired on by the Canby Police Department south of Portland. I was excited about getting onto a larger police department and the pay was about double that of what I was getting when I was a policeman in Umitilla. I felt sort of bad for my wife because she was enjoying her job at the bank and had made several friends there.

After moving to Canby, we rented a small townhouse apartment until we found a house that we really loved in Armona, a small town south of Canby. We came out a little ahead on the sell of our house in Umitilla, so we were able to get into the house in Armona with a small down payment and still had a little left over to fix it up a bit. Now this was the area my wife and I could call home and the great part about the area was that most of our relatives lived close by.

My wife and I enjoyed living in Armona and the income that I got working as a policeman in Canby was just enough to get us by so she could stay home and take care of our two sons. Within about two years or so, my wife became pregnant with our third son. Also during this period of time the city counsel in Canby had fired the Chief of Police and a big political mess started to develop within the department. I had already decided that I was going to quit my job, but I was going to wait until I had another job lined up.

Well, in April of 1976, my third (youngest) son was born, and by July of the same year I had quit my job as a policeman in Canby and had accepted a job as a deputy sheriff in Douglas County. I have to really give a lot of credit to my wife for loving me so much that she continued to stay by my side and supported me even when things weren't going too well.

So we moved to Douglas County, to a small town by the name of Yoncalla, were I became resident deputy. I will always remember the only house in Yoncalla that we could afford to rent was near the Yoncalla High School. It was a really small house with three bedrooms. I recall when I put our king size bed into the master bedroom, we had to climb over it just to get to the bathroom. And the foundation of the house was sinking so the floors were not level. It was funny because I had to put a wedge under the refrigerator so the door wouldn't keep opening by itself. Well, me, my wife and three son's, ages 5, 3, and 2 months, called this little dilapidated house "home" for about a year before finding a house to buy.

Now we are still living in Douglas County, where we raised all three of our boys. We finally stayed in an area long enough for my wife to go back to college and get her bachelor degree and a job working for the county tax office. I continued working for the sheriff's office and was promoted to detective. Our youngest son became a welder, but had a lot of problems with drugs and depression. In 2004, at the age of 27, he committed suicide and left behind two lovely children and his loving family. Our middle son got his degree and works for ODF&W as a fish & wildlife biologist. Our older son got his degree in fabrication & welding and was working for North River Boats until he was laid off.

My wife and I are now retired baby boomers who enjoy our volunteer work for our church and hospice. We also enjoy playing bingo, baby setting our grand kids, and having the freedom to do what we want to do, when we want to do it.

That's our life story in a nutshell, leaving out lots of joyful moments in life and lots of heartbreaks. But to answer the question: Were the good old days really that good? I would have to say that I probably wouldn't want to do it over again, but I thank God everyday for giving my wife and me the life's that we lived and everyone that came into our life. God is good all the time. All the time God is good.