EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan, a long-time journalist, are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in April 1993. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.
When you write a column it becomes something like jutting out your chin. You can expect a few swipes. A recent column about “Generation X” created a few swings at my protruding chin.
Most of the missives blamed my generation for the mess this country is in today. Some had valid points, especially in two letters. Roswell Myers of Roseburg said he read that a young person today could only afford to own a farm if he or she “were lucky enough to inherit one.”
Myers described himself as “probably a senior to Duncan.” He said he has listened with interest to his grandchildren say “that my generation was getting more than their fair share of the economic pie.”
Myers said the trials and tribulations which made my generation strong have been “denied the generations that followed us.” It was, he said, our attempt at assuring that our children and grandchildren had a better life than ours. “We taught our descendants the use of debt rather than waiting until it was affordable,” Myers said. “We passed laws restricting and regulating youth’s right to work and set wages high enough to reduce the demand for their labor.”
“We passed laws and regulations that raised the cost of housing through fees and licenses and use plans,” he continued. “I doubt one could now do what many of us did 20 or so years ago . . . . build a garage and live in it for several years while building a house, or add to a shack when the money was available.”
Myers said he believes the older generation is better off than our ancestors. “Most own our homes or have a low-payment mortgage,” he said. “Most get good retirement money and some who retired years ago now have more income than when they were working due to cost-of-living increases.”
The one thing that worries him the most, he told me in a telephone conversation, is a young person can’t afford to get into farming today.
To Myers, that signals the end of the American dream.
Another letter that touched me came from 29-year-old John Warinner of Lake Oswego, who says he is an agricultural engineer and a poet. He wrote poetic criticism of my focus, which he described in barnyard language. He said when he read the column he had just “spent the day digging gravel as part of an endless list of improvements” on his fixer-upper home, which included a sewer line “that heads into the backyard and mysteriously stops.”
Warinner said he grew up in Walla Walla, Wash., and credits his “fantastic” upbringing to parents who taught him that “life isn’t fair, but to rise above it;” that “I don’t get what I want, I get what I deserve”; that I should be “friendly and honest.” He said his maternal grandmother lived with his family as he grew up and “that wasn’t always rosy, but I’ll tell you that if my parents or in-laws needs the same from me they’ve got it.”
That message may best be said in the lines of one of his poems:
“I’ll pay back the sacrifice; I’ll pay back the worry; And I’ll return all gifts received.”
Yet the most poignant statement he made is the same Myers raised:
“Once I have enough money saved up,” he wrote, “I hope to buy a farm.”
Have we killed the American dream?