Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Ten "(Hey It's Good To Be) Back Home Again" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 12th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As the Reagan Era progresses, the economic crisis in Michigan worsens. How does that affect my family now that I have a son in school?

Off to Kindergarten

Cubby began Kindergarten in the fall of ’82, and we suddenly found ourselves the parents of a school-ager. Wow! Where did the time go? His Kindergarten teacher was a joy, and Cubby socialized well with the other kids so there presented no problems that first year not that we really expected any. His cousins, Sharon and Ron’s daughters, lived just around the corner about a mile from us which had been another reason for buying this house, and he spent quite a bit of time over there. Our only child needed to feel not so only.

First grade on the other hand became quite a challenge for him and us for a couple of reasons. First of all, the school district redrew the boundary lines and our neighborhood school kids were sent to a different school, and so the children Cubby went to school with in Kindergarten were gone. He had to go to a different school with a different bunch even though we didn’t move. But it didn’t stop there. His teacher had to be difficult on top of it.

Being Jehovah’s Witnesses our son didn’t do the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning (however he would stand out of respect, but remain silent), and, of course, he wouldn’t celebrate holidays or birthdays, and he’d been thoroughly indoctrinated in this. However, the teacher always had to be visited very early in the school year just to be forewarned of this so there would be no repercussions, and the discussion with one or both of us in attendance was designed to produce positive results . . . for both the teacher and us. With Cubby’s Kindergarten teacher this had been the case. She was a gem.

I could tell immediately that with his first grade teacher we were not going to have a repeat performance the second time around because of the unmistakably pained expression on her face as she discussed this with us. She made it clear to us that we were putting her out by even asking for such special treatment. What I should have done was stop the conversation right then and there and gone to the principal’s office and asked that my son be transferred to another classroom. I did not. Had I known how bad this year would go, I would have. I merely tried to be diplomatic and told her we weren’t asking for special treatment, but that as a former classroom teacher myself we welcomed diversity of religious beliefs in the classroom and we were certain that since Cubby had been well-instructed on what and what not to do, she wouldn’t even need to concern herself that much with it. She snorted in disgust, and half-heartedly thanked us for coming in. No smile. Who put the corncob up this woman’s ass, I thought as I left the building. Guess she didn’t like the former classroom teacher remark.

Makin' Do

As far as teaching was concerned, former was about all I could do at this point unless I wanted to be a substitute teacher, and I didn’t. I couldn’t make a decent wage doing that even if I got to work every day at it. As for a full-time position, I couldn’t. My Michigan teaching certificate had expired. When I graduated from MSU, my first certificate had been a provisional one, good for only five years, and during those first five years I needed to get enough graduate credits toward a master’s degree so many in fact that one may as well have gotten the master’s. In other words, to get my ongoing teacher’s certificate (nothing is permanent) was very costly, and we’d never had the money and kept putting it off until it was too late.

And so now if I wanted to ever be a teacher again, what I really needed to do was get a master’s degree or damn near close to it. At the moment I was reasonably content with my job, but I was still keeping my options open should something open up in the area where I could parlay my teaching degree into something in the business arena. Some way, somehow.

In the meantime, Reaganomics, hit mid-Michigan and Jackson in particular like a sledgehammer. Trickledown economics . . . don’t get me started! Shops and businesses kept on closing by the dozen. Some were sending their employees south, in particular to Texas, at least for awhile. It got so bad at one point that the joke began floating around southern Michigan that would the last person who left Michigan please turn off the lights? That’s severe!

The unemployment rate in Flint was running at 25% while in Jackson, second in the state, we were running somewhere around 20%. President Reagan’s attitude was not, ‘Let them eat cake,’ but it was ‘Let them eat milk and cheese.’ Somehow his big idea to become the benevolent big guy was to dig into the country’s dairy surplus, and so many of us who were low income earners in high unemployment towns with children found ourselves standing in lines three and four blocks long to get milk and cheese and on a good week a can of greasy generic peanut butter. Sometimes a bag of rice. But it all helped. Even though I was still working at the tire plant, we income-qualified, and our work load was dropping all the time. We got to worrying what would happen if the bottom fell out.

To illustrate the point, I wrote one of my better songs about it, and despite the humorous country take on it, I find it amazing that the words are still true three decades later.

Makin' Do

Words and Music by Ken Painter

That old ax fell at the factory, and I'm out of work again
Every shortage they were fearin' made 'em lay off forty men
But the bills keep right on climbin' so does my blood pressure too
'Cause we gotta make a livin', but we're barely makin' do

Yes we used to do our shoppin' at the local discount store
But flea markets and the auction look invitin' more and more
And we may well give up eatin' just to buy us somethin' new
'Cause we gotta make a livin', but we're barely makin' do

They promised a chicken in ev'ry pot, a car in ev'ry garage
Well I gave up on The Colonel, and I sold my old blue Dodge
A chicken in ev'ry pot, they'll tell ya that it's true
But it's hard to make a livin', and I'm tired of makin' do

Well the bottom of the barrel's gettin' closer everyday
But the end is not in sight for higher prices that we pay
So we put to use our woodshed, somethin' else to see us through
And we got our still to-workin', now we're busy makin' dew

They promised a chicken in ev'ry pot, a car in ev'ry garage,
Well, I gave up on The Colonel, and I sold my old blue Dodge
A chicken in ev'ry pot, they'll tell ya that it's true
But it's hard to make a livin', and I'm tired of makin' do

Copyright 1983 by Ken Painter

The Bottom

The bottom eventually did fall out for us, and in January 1984, I got laid off from the tire plant. My prophetic song came true for us. The work load had steadily declined to the point we could no longer keep up a steady production. The retreading process required five men to man each station, plus with the sales and service and office staff (I’m not counting management in the numbers, because they were all owners), we had perhaps fourteen people working there. They laid off two of us in the plant, a 40% reduction, plus two others company-wide. They even had the decency to wait until after the holidays. Even though Nancy and I didn’t celebrate them, I got a year-end bonus. They were right decent folks. I would collect unemployment benefits, and we become eligible for food stamps.

However, there were no other available jobs in this town, or anywhere else in mid-Michigan for that matter. Where do you go with 20% unemployment rates. And the milk and cheese lines outside Jackson High School just kept growing longer and longer. People began visiting old friends weekly there. It was perfectly comical were it not so sad. And Reagan fiddled.

After a couple months of this we found our meager savings exhausted, and when it came time for the mortgage payment I found that I could not pay it on time. I was going to be a week late in doing so. I didn’t think a week late was going to be a big deal, because in the three years we’d been there we’d never been so much as a day late. Well, perhaps I should have called them and notified them beforehand that I was going to be a week late and made arrangements, but I was young and naïve, and therefore I neglected this.

The mortgage company waited three whole days and called in the note. Can you believe it? Three days late . . . never been late before during the previous three years, and they had the audacity to call in my mortgage. We were going to lose our house! And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

We were instructed by mail not to make any further payments until we were instructed when to vacate the property. Because of this we actually got to live there rent-free until that August at which time we finally had to leave. We were given the option of an outright foreclosure or deeding the property back over to the mortgage company in lieu of foreclosure. By choosing the latter option, our credit rating was protected and it was like we’d just rented the property for the previous three years. However, we felt like we’d been raped.

We lost our house. Cubby at least had been able to finish out his tumultuous first grade year at the same school with a teacher who constantly singled him out for embarrassment. I had more run-ins with her than all other human beings in my entire lifetime, and I’m not exaggerating. And for her accomplishments, she was rewarded with being named Teacher of the Year in Jackson Public Schools that year. Perhaps she was sleeping somebody. She surely didn’t get it for her classroom accomplishments.

But the worst result was that after five years we had to say good-bye to the Jackson North Congregation. We’d found a small affordable home to rent just down the road from Karyn and Roy’s in Leslie. It was in the country and yet near friends. Given our uncertain situation, we were praying for another miracle. We needed to be within the bosom of our dearest friends.

(In the next installment, the beginning of Chapter 11 which is the MAJOR turning point in this book, as we have hit rock bottom, again, my family relocates back to the Leslie area.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Jehovah, Jehovah Witness, Jehovah Witnesses, Jehovahs Witness, Jehovahs Witnesses, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Teacher, Teachers, Teaching, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar More Hearts
13th Oct 2013 (#)

I'll be praying for this writer...times aren't getting any better and economy has took a jab at everybody one way or the other, you got to hang in there and hold on to hope , ...hope that therew's light at the end of the tunnell. interesting eye opener for some peopl ! it is for me.your morals are strong ..hold onto your spirit and keep writing, both songs and stories. you will be suprised at the hearts you touch.

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author avatar Ken Painter
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading. I appreciate it.

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