Recently, I hunted down my childhood home on Google maps. I didn’t recognize it at first as nearly every single stitch of shrubbery, several trees, and all gardens had been stripped from the property. The building appeared pretty much the same but without the accents of living breathing plant material, it seemed alien and strange.
Apparently, we grew up poor in money but rich in plant life. If anyone lived in the aging city duplex now, they had neither.
The absence of red tulips, orange and yellow marigolds, short crooked climbing tree, pear tree full of bees, staked tomato plants, tough juniper bush, and spring lilac bush left the house hollow without the barest humanity.
Don’t get me wrong here–I do not mourn my personal history of place and what it used to represent, I feel for the people living there now amongst the social and literal decay of an aging midwestern town that once thrived around the auto industry.
My dad, my grandpa, my cousin-in-law, and my father-in-law all used to work for GM and Eaton in Saginaw. It was so much a part of our culture that I once believed that I would probably work in a factory too in the very town where I was born.
The dream of a blue collar union job with benefits is dying as fast as the shrubbery that once lined medium sized cities like Saginaw, Michigan and Flint, Michigan. I found it hard to listen to the sound byte on the news last week of a man in tears who had just lost his job at GM after 28 years with the company, even moving his family from town to town to keep his job over the years. “How could you do this to me?”
Thousands of people out of work. People who aren’t going to plant red tulips in careful rows in front of the privacy fence lining their tranquil space they cared so much for over the years.
It’s easy to say, well, chum, suck it up and get that Master’s Degree in computing and move to Seattle. I mean, c’mon. This guy is old. He dedicated his life to his career. How much time is left for him to pick a pear, visit the sea, or enjoy a cup of black coffee on the porch he’s paid for many times over.
Increasingly, culture is asking things of us that border on theft. Squeeze that last bit of breath into making that CEO another million. His shareholders are worth more than your children and grandchildren playing hide and seek around the juniper bush.
The joy of a small city green space is now collateral damage in the fight over the labor you can give in a lifetime. Like the marigold garden, when they are done with you and refuse to bring the water can to you, your petals will be lost forever.
Theft by living. You get up only to serve a guy you can’t trust. And he isn’t the guy who will replant your tomatoes after the fire.