I’m seeing more and more houses with The Look: Empty windows, a few
pieces of debris on the front lawn, no cars. Soon a “For Sale” sign
will go up and then, inevitably, “For Rent.”
This area of the Shenandoah Valley houses a lot of blue collar
families. The current wave of bankruptcies and foreclosures is caused
by record lay offs at area manufacturing plants. I’m more sensitive to
this since my family was among the previous wave — construction
and incendiary workers who were the casualties when first victims
— the subprime mortgagees — imploded after the housing
And the dominoes are still falling.
On my rural road, before I get to the state highway, I pass ten such
houses in a five-mile stretch. I can’t help but wonder where the
families went. And can’t help envisioning vultures circling every time
I see another vacant house.
Rentals around here are as high as a mortgage payment and usually
require a credit check. The law of supply and demand has no effect as
row upon row of houses sit vacant. I have to wonder what kind of
bargain these owners got on the foreclosure that it’s more economical
for the mortgage holder — you can’t assume it’s a bank anymore
— to have the house sit vacant than to rent it out.
So where have they gone?
A family down the road from us just disappeared. I noticed because
they had a house full of teens and pre-teens and one day they were all
gathered in the carport — I thought it was a birthday party or
something. But the next day, the house had The Look. I asked Heir 2 if
he’d seen any of the kids at school.
He shrugged. “Not anymore, now that you mention it. They kinda
It’s the language of the Dustbowl during the Great Depression:
displaced families “disappearing.”
Only this is 2008 and we should know better. If this were any other
issue or cause, there would be support groups set up in every church
and hospital. There is one for every disease and every traumatic event
that can befall a human being. They have them for alcoholics, gamblers,
There is only one reason no one cares what happens to a family faced
with foreclosure: shame and fear.
The shame is on the part of those who have lost their houses. We
don’t need anyone to tell us we screwed up. It’s the last thing we
think of at night if we’re able to fall asleep and it’s the first thing
we beat ourselves up with in the morning. The shame silences us and
makes us hide.
The fear is on the part of everyone else. Those of us who have lost
our homes are castigated for “buying more house than we could afford”
or for being “shopaholics” but even the staunchest fiscal conservative
knows it’s just not at that simple. And, because it’s not that simple,
it could happen to anyone — a bad business decision at the wrong
time, an illness that goes on longer than expected, or perhaps just
being the next domino in line to tumble.
As for me, I will acknowledge that I am not homeless only by luck of
the draw. We have family around us acting as our safety net. We lucked
into a landlord who saw to it that not only wasn’t my family forced to
separate, but that we didn’t have to sacrifice our pets. I can say with
confidence that my family will never be out on the street, not because
of any outstanding character trait of my own, but because Dirtman and I
happen to be born into supportive families.
But I don’t for a minute claim any of this as a virtue. These are
blessings. I had no more to do with possessing them than I had to do
with where and when I was born.
So it baffles me that those who have stumbled during this round of
hard times are being judged by people whose bad decisions just happen
to be made under better circumstances or who lucked into a job not
affected by the economy or who — for any myriad of fortuitous
events that resulted in their having money when others do not —
are holding their own in a time of economic upheaval.
Equally baffling are the vitriolic attacks and nasty comments aimed
in our direction. Because, unlike failing banks and the auto industry,
we are not descending on Congress, hat in hand, asking to be bailed
out; we are not asking for sympathy; we are not, in fact, asking for
We are silent and we just disappear.
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