Book Echoes Life; Life Echoes Book

We’re on our way to Columbus to see Fleetwood Mac, and we stop at the ATM.  Mark slides his card in, punches in his PIN, selects the amount.

“Error reading card” flashes onto the screen.  He clenches his jaw and tries again.

The card won’t work.

We try again at the supermarket. No dice.  We toddle off to Columbus with something like two dollars and twenty seven cents between us in cold, hard cash.  We will park, of necessity,  in the overpriced garage that takes credit cards.

It’s not, please note, that we’ve depleted our account.  Our bank has been having real and serious computer problems.

Withdrawals on our accounts have been taken out twice and three times.  Each day brings a new string of erased transactions.  The first time through it looked like transactions that shouldn’t have been eliminated disappeared anyway, and that some money had been put back twice again. The next day brought a new string of corrections and problems.

We kept track in our old-school, paper check register, and we stopped checking balances on the Internet when it grew too confusing.  At least, on paper, we knew what our balance should be.

As we cruise west on Route 70, admiring the last glory of autumn leaves, I think about the book I’m reading, Susan Wittig Albert’s The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush.  It’s a series about a group of women in fictional Darling, Alabama, during the Great Depression. Darling is a small town struggling to take care of its own in spring of 1933.  The people have weathered the ‘bank holidays’ Franklin Roosevelt declared as he assumed office; their bank was one that re-opened.

But–as the book opens, the Darling Savings and Trust has closed up again, and this time it’s anyone’s guess when (or if) the bank will re-open.  We learn that the bank has been sold to a firm in New Orleans.  We learn that Mr. Johnson, the bank’s former president, had once been revered by the townspeople for making loans on good faith and hope.

Now those loans are due, for the most part unpaid, and the people have forgotten all the times Mr. Johnson helped one of them.  Now the citizens of Darling want the man they once regarded as a savior in financially strapped times run out of town on a rail.

Mark and I were frustrated by the inability to get to our money Sunday night; instead, we had to pull out the plastic and use that. (It probably kept us from buying overpriced beers, which probably kept us from having to leave the concert–which was awesome, and had no intermission–to use the restrooms.  Not a bad outcome, actually…)

In Darling, the town movers and shakers are talking about printing scrip…funny money, Darling Dollars, to use as currency until the bank can re-open.  I think about visiting quintessential college town Ithaca, New York, for a Literacy Volunteers conference back in the 1990’s and seeing that Ithaca had a scrip of its own, redeemable in Ithaca at several different businesses.  It’s the same idea that the Darling leaders float…they’ll print the bills, and people can use them in town at groceries and diners and dress shops and drugstores.  The hitch is…what will the storekeepers use to buy their supplies?  Is there any way major suppliers will take home town scrip in payment?

I haven’t finished the book, so I can’t answer those questions, but a browse through Wittig Albert’s introduction made me realize Depression scrip is a historical fact.  I did a quick Google search and found there’s a whole site devoted to the topic: http://www.depressionscrip.com.  My parents, Depression kids, never mentioned such a thing, but apparently it popped up all over the country, in varying forms and with varying success.

In Chicago, for instance, the web site tells me, an entrepreneur named Caslow issued “Caslow Recovery Certificates”–but he himself, while promoting his self-issued scrip, insisted on being paid in cash.  Perhaps anyone who has so little faith in his own enterprise is doomed to failure; Caslow Recovery Certificates never caught on, and Caslow had to fold his newspaper.

In Buffalo, New York, I was surprised to read, the Larkin Company–for which my mother worked as a young woman–issued Larkin Merchandise Bonds.  The bonds were recognized as currency at any of the vast retail holdings of the Larkin empire; they were so well-received that other retailers came to accept them, as well.  The Larkin bonds helped the company, its employees, and other Buffalo retailers stay afloat during the enforced bank holiday. Clever and resourceful…and apparently this company believed in its own product.

A little taste of being cut off from cash was uncomfortable for Mark and me, but we knew we would have access within a day or two.  The people in the fictional town of Darling–like those in many real towns across the US–had no such comforting knowledge.  They coped by calling on their cleverness, industry, frugality, ingenuity.  They bartered and traded, they used things on hand and things in big supply.  New recipes came from the Depression; it was a time of infinite re-purposing,and a time when people wrestled with the concepts of what they needed versus what they wanted.

Lack of coin and fold-able bills does not interfere with our enjoyment of the Fleetwood Mac show.  Thanks to the admin, Debbie, in Mark’s office, we have great seats–seats Deb’s sister couldn’t use and I was happy to buy to help Mark celebrate a turning point birthday.  He will be 60 tomorrow; this weekend we’ll celebrate with four generations of family.  Last Sunday we celebrated with rock icons from our generation.

We have seen concerts by artists who should have hung it up–who, let’s face it, were maybe not that good in the first place, and who didn’t nurture whatever spark was there as they aged. So we are leery, going in…but we are soon relieved.  Fleetwood, Christine McVie newly restored to the band, is GREAT.  For the entire time the band is on stage, Lindsey Buckingham never leaves.  He dances. He sings.  His voice, like Stevie Nicks’ and McVie’s, is clear and strong.

It is a perfect concert to celebrate a significant birthday.  Christine McVie is 70 years old; she looks great and sounds great.  The whole experience makes me think of books I’ve been reading lately–about how music, pursued at any age, enlivens the mind, keeps its young and questing.

“Do you think these people have had any work done?” Mark asks, and yes, I do think these veteran performers have probably had a nip here and a tuck there.  There’s beautiful hair on that stage, none of it gray except for Mick Fleetwood’s pony tail. But the real mesmerizing feature is the talent, the enduring and growing talent, that drives the show.

The members of Fleetwood Mac have honored their art, the words and lyrics, the tunes and instrumentals; their music is as vital and moving as I remember them forty years ago.

Betty Friedan, in The Fountain of Age, writes about work after age 60, about the quest for identity after retiring from a  job that defined who you are.  The answer may be—the OPPORTUNITY may be–to take off on a creative quest, to embrace having the time to fulfill unmet yearnings.  The members of Fleetwood Mac, perhaps, had been bold enough as young people, bold and driven and talented enough, to make their creativity their lives.  For the rest of us, poor suckers stuck in day jobs–even day jobs that we love– retirement years can offer time for renewal and excitement.  Like the members of The LateStarters Orchestra, we can start a brand new exciting creative chapter.

The concert was just the right adventure for a guy staring down a very short pike and seeing 60 loom large.  We emerged into a cold autumn night, strode happily along with all the other ‘certain age’ concert-goers, talking about the light show, the looming picture of Lindsay Buckingham floating behind the band like the Great and Wonderful Oz, of the maniacally grinning face of Mick Fleetwood inciting the crowd to a call and response.

We are the lucky ones–healthy and looking forward, not overly burdened by a little banking glitch.

Maybe life doesn’t imitate book, but book informs life, and the words of two smart women who do their homework, gird their ideas with well-researched fact–Albert and Friedan–help frame the night and send me home looking ahead, feeling grateful and empowered.

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