My Grandpa Christie gave me a calf when I was born, a little heifer, not your typical silver baby spoon or diaper service.
Why did I get such an unusual present? Well, for my family, the gift was comparable to a savings bond in that it presented a financial investment for my future. But this little girl of the bovine persuasion represented far more. As far back as I can know, my family has been self-employed, and she was my intended business start.
Oh, there was that distant grandpa who worked for Henry VIII and saved his life, but that is another story entirely. No, most of my family raised cattle and coaxed seedlings from the earth and into fruition. Great-grandpa Christie grew milo in Jessie James territory and converted it with his sorghum mill. My maternal grandmother had her “egg money.”
But the lure of a certain paycheck, secure in its amount and time of dispensation, sucked most families into the Industrial Revolution. The pull must have been powerful to pry people’s roots from the ground. But the magic of the steam engine, then today’s trains, shoe-horned most people into production lines of steel mills and heavy or oil-product manufacturing. And, yes, the advent of the automobile romance drove us further and further away from self-employment.
By the time I came around, the corporate farm had begun its press on the family farm toward the cliffs of decline. Grandpa made a good living on his 80 acres of eastern Kansas soil. He could afford to lend or simply give money to my young parents as they were starting out. Banks were still eager to loan the relatively vast amounts for farm tractors, combines and other specialized equipment.
Of course when the tractor broke, that was another matter. Dad didn’t run it up to the shop. No, he cursed the timing, then started taking the tractor apart. I listened as the windmill creaked a bit when the wind moved the multi-bladed steel rotor atop the lattice tower. Dad asked me to hand him the various tools of machine mending. It was usually a matter of repair or modify. I was Dad’s assistant whether he was putting in barbed-wire fences or replacing the car’s fuel pump.
When I got out of school I missed the linear production lines. Life seemed to pick me up in the tornado of information technology, telecommunications and robotics, then whiz me past bio-technology, nano-technology and on to spintronics. Just as in farming problem-solving, I take a little of this industry and a little of that one, modifying to come out on the other side with answers. I speak agriculture and 14 other industries fluently.
The jobs that promised regular paychecks, good benefits and a safe retirement have betrayed us. Like chunks from a giant iceberg, a piece of our economy chips and falls into the abyss, then another piece. What do we do? Not everyone can start a business. We’ve lost most of that collective knowledge. A lifestyle sans coffee breaks is unfamiliar.
But each person can change their buying loyalty to small local businesses — or do without. We make them healthy, so they can hire us if need be. We can value each person. And we can email our representatives in Congress.
From a life of traversing the winds of change, I am able with these words to help in building a strong bridge so that people can cross more safely, so that their journey is a little easier.
My folks sold that heifer and doubled her worth with interest, from $6 to $13. I have the small bank book that holds those transactions. And now I let that $13 sit in Kansas’ unclaimed monies because it is my last living link to Grandpa. Maybe it’s time to change, to put it in my local bank.
Gloria C. Christie of Fairway is an author and a problem-solver for high-tech, economic and complex systems at The Christie Group, where she is a partner.