Ep 31: Old Men Like Me

Buss was a complex character.

I eavesdropped on father as we were closing our neighborhood store—the night before Christmas—marking the end of the busy shopping season.  Just then a man entered, distraught, and engaged Buss clumsily.  Next, spontaneously, he exploded in tears.

With a large family, he couldn’t afford presents for his kids.  Disabled and unemployable, he sobbed, there was little help—then—for families in his circumstance.

Grasping a large bag, together the two men moved thoughtfully from shelf to shelf, selecting multiple presents for each child.  No charge, of course; just big smiles all around as the distraught man exited into Christmas eve darkness.

I’d seen Buss do similar stuff before, spontaneously, and I wondered why he was so low key; perhaps to avoid mother’s wrath.  Our family lived far too close to the edge, financially.  Charity makes sense, Melba would have snapped, only when you pay your own bills, first.  Too often, bills went unpaid.

No doubt, mother harbored bitter memories of Buss’s failed attempt to help Betty and Jack.  An old friend, Jack had been hired by Buss during father’s brief stint as encyclopedia sales manager.  Later, Jack spiraled into alcoholism.  Betty, with no career skills, coped alone.

Even as a second-grader, I remember Betty coming to Sawyer’s Variety Store, weeping.  She had no money, she told Buss, to feed her kids or pay the rent.  Reluctantly, he co-signed on Betty’s loan, then picked up one more heavy burden when she defaulted.  Co-signing contributed, no doubt, to bankruptcy.  As with Donald Trump, it happened to Buss more than once.

As a middle-schooler, I stressed about family finances.  Was it fair for Buss to co-sign for Betty, then later declare bankruptcy?  When Buss gave away Christmas toys, I wondered, was he giving away stuff belonging to whomever he owed and could not pay?

Adolescent angst—percolated—then, eventually, blossomed into career choices favoring economics, even moral philosophy.

Always, I am appreciative of Buss’s tutoring, gained while working alongside him at our little store on 26th Street.  I lament, however, how his contemporaries—along with him—too often act contrary to needs of those who depend upon them.

Indeed, I ponder—now, as then—shouldn’t politics and economics lead old men like Donald Trump—and me—toward planting trees in whose shade we will never sit?

From Boulder, Colorado, this is Jim Sawyer for Capitalism in Crisis Dot Org.

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