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By Staff | Feb 13, 2009

The economy is in the news a bit nowadays, which is about like saying that the sun tends to rise in the east.

Every day brings yet another boatload of bad economic news. The weight of it presses down on us and makes us want to huddle in the basement like children hiding from a summer thunderstorm.

It’s been said that the only difference between a recession and a depression is our collective state of mind.

If that’s the case shouldn’t the government, just to be safe, start pumping Prozac into our water supply?

A farm machinery dealer summed it up best recently when he commented, “This country would be a whole lot better off if people would just quit listening to the news!”

Not listening wouldn’t change the fact that it has gotten tough for many. There is no shortage of pain as folks watch their dreams melt like a snowman in May. But as dire as things may seem, there can be no doubt that we will someday find our way out of this ditch.

America is still the greatest country on the planet.

She is still the land of opportunity, full of ambitious, energetic and inventive people. New industries and new jobs will rise from the ashes of this recession, or downturn, or whatever you want to call it.

While this dip in the economy is probably not as bad as the Great Depression, we can certainly take some lessons from that era. One of them is the lost art of hunkering.

Hunkering can be summed up by a bumper sticker I once saw: “I’ve done so much with so little for so long, I can now do almost anything with just about nothing!”

I was a farmer for most of my life, which meant that I was self-employed. There was thus little chance that I would be fired for, say, showing up late for work. On the other hand, my boss could really be a jerk and often forced me to work long hours.

My wages generally fell somewhere between “little” and “none.”

Because of this, my wife and I perfected the art of hunkering during our early years together.

Certainly we would have qualified for food stamps back when we were a struggling young dairy farm couple with two small kids at home. We never applied for them, though.

Pride was a factor, but I also thought it weird that a guy who raises food would get food assistance from the government. In any case, we never went hungry.

This was because we hunkered. We did without such things as nights at the movies and planted a large garden. When one of my cows broke a leg, we butchered her and my wife canned most of the meat. We dined for many months on the delicious beef stew that was once a Holstein named Becky.

We also ate road kill, thanks to my wife’s uncanny ability for “grilling” deer with the car. Such events are a pain in the neck for us, but generally fatal for the deer. When we were young and poor, we never let a little thing like tread marks on a carcass stand in the way of fresh venison.

Speaking of cars, we did everything we could to save gas. We had a Chevette, basically a roller skate bolted to a lawn mower engine, which got about 50 miles per gallon.

It had a stick shift, so I would extend our gas mileage whenever we went downhill by popping the tranny into neutral and killing the engine.

I often drove many miles out of our way so we could save gas by coasting down a hill. My wife argued that this used more gas than we were saving, but women tend to have a poor grasp of the automotive world.

Another hunkering method involved saving on electricity by burning candles. My wife has always had a thing for candlelight. When I met first her, my wife’s apartment had more candles than a Medieval monastery.

Luckily for us, our family knew about this and often gave my wife candles for Christmas and birthdays, along with extra-special candles from Rome for the Fourth of July.

One evening we were enjoying a cozy candlelit meal when my wife caught me staring deeply into the flickering flame.

Smiling warmly, she reached across the table, squeezed my hand and murmured, “What are you thinking?”

“I was thinking about how all this wax is going up in smoke,” I replied, “And what it’s going to cost to replace these candles. But I believe I’ve come up with a way to make them last longer. What do you call that stuff I’m always digging out of my ears?”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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