Monday, June 25, 2012

Penny Candy...Is the Past Really Past?

         Several days ago I was going through some things resurrected from a little-used storage space, only to discover a scrapbook containing my “Made for Living” columns. Back in 1980, my family moved to South Florida, to a “new” community called Coral Springs, not far from Fort Lauderdale. There, we quickly became part of a church family at Lutheran Ministry in Christ, affectionately and widely known as LMIC, a growing congregation composed mostly of families similar to ours, with children and youthful (thirty- and forty-something) parents, with a smattering of elders and singles. I tell you all this because it was through a new friend at LMIC that I obtained my job at the local weekly newspaper, The Coral Springs Forum, and began the nearly five-year adventure of writing a weekly column.

Janice had been writing the column, “Made for Living”, for several years and wanted to give it up, as her life had become too busy with her other, full-time job in real estate. And since I loved to write, she asked me if I would be interested in taking over for her. Of course, I said YES and, after an interview of sorts with the editor, I began my newspaper “career”. The column had been billed as “religious news”…but I am not a reporter and simply giving the “who, what, where, when, why” of some happening within our local religious community held little appeal for me. And so, slowly, gradually, I turned the column into something different- an opinion piece on various topics, including, over time, things that were going on in my own life, in the world, in our local area, always reflecting on the place of God in all this.
            As I sat reading these thirty-year-old columns, I could not help noticing how very timely some of them seemed; how they could have been written in the past days, weeks, months rather than those long years ago. And so, I have decided to share some of them with you, dear readers, with a few editorial changes here and there, but mostly intact from when I had written them at the tender ages of 38-43. I have also discovered, to my surprise, that the woman I was then is very similar to the woman I am now…though I would like to believe that there has been a growth in wisdom and understanding and tolerance, at my deepest core I am who I am and who I was then. Interesting, n’est pas? (Don’t know where the French came from, but isn't it a lovely expression?)

I hope you will enjoy the reading and reflection. Remember to remind yourself that these pieces were written between 1980 and 1985, perhaps before some of you were born! Perhaps they will give you a tiny glimpse into the world of that day and time, a kind of time capsule of life in one tiny corner of our world, written by one woman’s perspective…for really, what more can any of us offer to one another but our own view? Blessings on your day, dear ones, and remember that you are loved. Love, Linda

Penny Candy and Greed  (Jan. 1983)
          Do you remember penny candy? I have many fond memories of standing before the huge glass case in the corner grocery store near my elementary school, a few pennies or a nickel clutched tightly in my hand, surveying the wondrous array before me. The decision about what to buy was momentous, the variety of choices nearly overwhelming. Should it be the mint juleps, two for a penny? Or the watermelon slices, once cent each but, oh, so good! What about the root beer barrels, the licorice squares, the spearmint leaves, or the orange slices? And then there were the jaw breakers, the candy corn, the Sugar Daddies, and the peppermint sticks.

          Confronted by this seemingly endless presentation of delectable goodies, a child could stand, absorbed, for long moments, oblivious to everything except the choices which confronted her, the choices between an unbelievable number of mouth-watering goodies which delighted the heart and mouth. And many was the day that I left that tiny shop clutching a small paper bag filled with my favorites, to be relished and shared with my friends, my treasure trove purchased with those two or three pennies I had clutched in my hand.

          It saddens me that those days ar gone forever, that my children and yours will never know the sheer, stomach-tickling joy of that childhood experience. In fact, the days when a mere penny would buy anything significant have been long ago relegated to the past and now, more often than not, we find these coins gathering dust in the penny jar atop the refrigerator or sink or dresser of most homes.

The realities of today’s world are now runaway inflation, recession, joblessness, rising prices for food, clothing, and shelter, a rising tax burden- all sacrifices, it seems, on the altar of someone’s greed. For here, as throughout most of the world, we are finding that the truly rich are indeed getting richer at the expense of those who do not have and likely never will. Large corporations bemoan the requests of their employees for raises which will keep pace with the inflationary spiral while at the same time issuing statements to their stockholders which demonstrate that profits have never been higher. Utilities request ever-increasing rate hikes from the already over-burdened consumer who is attempting valiantly to “cut back”, while at the same time paying their stockholders the highest dividends ever.

The realities of this world in which we find ourselves are sometimes more than we would care to bear and, at times, we are convinced that it has never been worse, that things have never been so topsy-turvey, so out-of-kilter. But let me share with you the findings of a professor of archeology at New York University. A number of years ago, he and his colleagues were excavating the ancient city of Aphrodisias, a thriving community of the Greco-Roman Age. This city had been located in the Anatolian uplands of Turkey, 135 miles from the Aegean port of Izmir. The dig had been successful, producing a treasure trove of artifacts from the ancient world: coins, potsherds, exquisite statues, marble carvings. But the professor and his staff had also located the marketplace of the ancient city, thereby unearthing some three hundred pieces of inscribed stone panels. These they fitted together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, the whole of which was found to be a table of fixed prices such as you might see in a supermarket today.

It seems that, in an effort to curb runaway inflation which was plaguing his city, the Emperor, Diocletian, froze the prices on almost everything, including melons, marble, kerchiefs, and cattle. No more could the people pursue their usual custom of bartering and bargaining, the merchant obtaining the highest possible price, the customer the lowest. And the rationale behind this drastic measure was explained on still another tablet from the past unearthed by the archaeologists. An edict from the Emperor, it read: ‘Raging greed blazes on without limit and, with no respect for mankind, races after its own gains and profits not only every year, month and day, but almost by the hour and minute. The sole desire of these greedy men is to disregard completely the public good.’ Clearly, inflation is not a new problem. Greed was not invented yesterday. The Emperor, Diocletian, issues this edict in the year 301C.E. His people were having the same trouble we are facing in making ends meet, and he instituted the only means he knew to attempt to overcome the increasing problem.

          Obviously, this knowledge will not make your dollars go any further at the supermarket, nor will it reduce your utility bills at the end of the month. But it can perhaps give you some sense of perspective and even help us to look at ourselves and our circumstances with less despair and more hope, knowing that others have faced similar challenges. And with the writer of the Biblical book of Lamentations, we can say, “I therefore have hope, for the loving kindness of the Lord never ceases, God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is thy faithfulness.” For when all else around us fails, when our circumstances seem more than we can handle alone, when the world seems to be closing in and extracting a higher price that we can pay, remember, “Great is thy faithfulness”. Thanks be to God.

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