Smile lines radiated out from my grandma's eyes, her personality writ into her skin like the interweaving trails that thirsty pronghorns etch on the hillsides around a watering hole. No amount of fakery can ever duplicate the effects of a lifetime of amusement, and I decided early on that I wanted wrinkles just like hers.
In our recent unlamented Age of Stupidity - let's hope it's truly dead and not just playing possum - ordinary people shelled out good money every few weeks for botulinum toxin injections to paralyze their faces and erase such lines. I don't wish awful times on anybody, but if a mini-depression resets our cultural priorities away from such ridiculous tomfoolery, well, sign us up.
Of course even now the Botox syringes keep squirting for lots of people. Economic conditions may be getting stingier but it's not like earth suffered a head-on with Halley's Comet, with a few grim survivors fighting over the last dented cans of generic-brand dog food. For most people, today's Great Meltdown is more a matter of feeling poorer than of actually living on roadkill and boiled dandelion greens.
That's not to say we haven't been hurt. Too many small businesses are just clinging to existence, hoping to put enough Spring Break tourist dollars in the cash register to pay the mortgage. Construction and forest-products workers are sweating out the calendar in a race between expiration of unemployment benefits and a hoped-for resumption of work this spring or summer. No one feels secure.
But out here on the far west edge of the Pacific Northwest and in a lot of other anonymous places around America, everything wasn't all that delightful and cheery for very long anyway. Our house-price bubble was more the small, cheap kind of balloon they sell at the grocery checkout. It was hard to inflate. When it popped, just as earlier ones did, anybody who's been around for long wasn't overly startled.
It still may take several years to work through the heavy inventory of condos and vacation houses built with too-cheap loans. In Pacific County, it could even take a decade to completely digest the lumpy remains of a mysterious spec-house boom fueled by Russian immigrants, in which oddly angled and dubiously constructed homes sprang up in weeks like awkward crystals growing out of the sand. No doubt as more of the Baby Boom retires and acts upon the dream of living at the beach for a few years, even these will become cozy homes.
No, the really deadly boom and bust, the Graf Zeppelin colliding with high-voltage power lines kind, happened in places like Wall Street, San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas. It was perpetrated by a bunch of spoiled-rotten Richie Rich brats playing games with other people's dreams.
Should somebody who makes $50,000 borrow enough to buy a $500,000 house? Of course not, and they deserve to lose their shirts and maybe some of the flesh underneath.
But the serious, criminal blame sits with politicians and those who bought them. To these scum, American people were just dumb sheep to be slaughtered, our mortgages wadded up like cheap toilet tissue and traded away to suckers. Chinese-style summary execution has a certain appeal. I'd start with former Republican U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and his lovely wife, but there are collaborators on the Democrat side that I'd line up against the wall as well.
As always, however, the mega-rich and their enablers - calling them prostitutes would be an insult to honest hookers - will continue to skate along, working to sabotage all recovery efforts so that they can capitalize on the resulting backlash when a confused electorate looks for fresh people to blame. It all leaves me a might peeved.
Grandma practiced her humor even in the pit of the Great Depression, during which she and Grandpa always stayed employed. Just like modern days around here, the differences weren't that vast between "depression" and "normal." Even so, living on what they managed to scratch up on their own, Grandma's chickens still tasted delicious. My grandparents directed their righteous anger at those who would wantonly discard decent working people, but they didn't let fear or hatred spoil their good lives.
I'm still working on those smile lines, thinking of you, Grandma, when I crinkle them up while peering in the bathroom mirror.
Chinook Observer editor Matt Winters lives in Ilwaco with his wife and daughter. His grandmother, Hilda Bell, lived in Wyoming.