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Some might say I stepped over the line of what is on-topic/off-topic for this forum by including all of Frost's long poem in my previous post, or by including any of it at all. I knew I was taking a risk, that I was pushing limits. But that's what any writer does, she or he pushes, both her audience and herself. Sometimes, the writing works, sometimes it doesn't. But Frost's poem is relevant to our times, faced as we are with a deepening recession, and the poem has a personal connection for me.

At the end of WWII, after victory had been declared and the treaties signed, the US demobilized. My father was now out of a job. He was a ”mustang” sailor who risen from fireman in the “black gang” to captain of his own ship. But now he was “on the beach”. He knew steam plants. So he went to work for the utility company as a power-plant operator. Before I was old enough to be in school, an opening occurred at new power plant the company was building further down the coast. My Dad moved us there, to the small town of Watsonville, a mostly agricultural community probable no bigger then than 8,000. New housing was still in short supply due to post-war shortages, so we were renters. It was an drafty, turn-of-century house located half a block from the canneries and the railroads tracks that serviced them.

One late afternoon, as shadows lengthened, someone knocked on the door. My Dad was working swing shift, so it was just my Mom alone at home, with me, and my younger sisters. Those weren't fearful times, and the part of town we lived in wasn't threatening, just poor. She opened the door cautiously. That I remember, but not exactly what was said. Years later, when I thought about the incident, I knew what the two men had asked. They had asked for work in exchange for food. They were tramps. They were out of work, riding the freight cars, and our house was close to the tracks. My Mom told them to go to the back door, and then she fixed two sandwiches I still remember: a thick slab of ham, lettuce, and sliced tomatoes. She put them on palates with a red delicious apple each and coffee in the heavy, navy-style mugs my Dad preferred.

Years later, I still wondered why she didn't turn them away. She wasn't a brave person, nor was she outgoing. But I also knew why. She saw in them the men and times that were still a recent memory to her, the Deep South during the years of the Great Depression. Her father worked at the lumber mill, so there was occasional work for him. But I remember her telling stories of those years, when no one had much of anything, but that they took care of family and even strangers, sharing what they had. That's why she fixed those sandwiches that day for those two tramps at the door.

How long will this recession last, and how close are we to another depression? No one can know, nor can any of us have guessed that the stories told us by our parents might become our stories, too. For that reason, I included Frost's poem. He made one decision; other will make another. Investing is more than just the numbers. It's also about the larger human context in which we make our personal decisions. I think, if I were to meet Frost, I'd urge him to yield his ax that day and chop his own wood another time.

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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