Respectfully looking to the Amish

One of the themes running through my new novel, What’s Left, is an acknowledgement of what I’ve sometimes called “guerrilla economics.”

In one passage in an earlier draft of the story, I argued:

On the other hand, he just might learn along the way that the Amish keep to their ways not because they’re entirely sold on horsepower and kerosene lamps but because of the hedge their style puts around them, enabling them to keep their families and communities intact against the onslaught that’s devouring everything else.

Well, the Amish do provide the Swiss cheese essential to the family’s signature Streetcar sandwich, but there’s more. They’re a model of community, something Cassia’s family is also trying to do beside the college campus.

~*~

You can’t have it all – it’s an essential lesson when it comes to money issues if you want any freedom. Besides, where would you store it all? Who would even dust or polish it?

Again, this subject runs beyond the scope of my new novel, but there is a question of just how much is enough. For Cassia and her parents, they’re comfortable living modestly while successfully working in their world. And, no, they don’t live out by the country club or buy a new car every year, even when Cassia might see that as the way “normal” people might live.

What sacrifice would you be willing to make to pursue your dreams? (Give up your cell phone? Your laptop?) And what would you find’s essential to keep?

~*~

Greek Orthodox icon of the Virgin Mary of Mount Athos (and details) created by Father Vasileios Pavlatos in Kefalonia, Greece using the technique of Pyrography. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

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Winter heating costs in historical perspective

In earlier times, so I’ve heard, a normal house on Cape Cod used forty cords of hard pine firewood a year. That was back before chain saws or splitting machines, so felling the trees and cutting them to fit a fireplace or stove was largely handwork, even before getting around to stacking. My muscles and back ache just thinking about it.

Mind you, a typical Cape was not a large dwelling – two over two, as they say – or two rooms downstairs and two under the rafters above.

Like many New Englanders, we heat part of our house with wood. It also functions as backup for energy outages, just in case. Since we live in a small city not far from forests, obtaining firewood is rarely a problem. I have no idea what it’s like in a city like Boston or Providence, but the going rate here, delivered, is $300 a cord.

Imagine needing forty cords to get through a year – that would cost $12,000 a year … for a small house! And we think $2,500 a year for natural gas is excessive? I’ll have to ask around to see what folks using fuel oil or propane are shelling out, but it’s still bound to be cheaper than the Colonial alternative.

Two cords of new firewood sit stacked inside a seasoned shell in early September/ Stacking it was a lot of work, but not nearly as much as earlier generations put in on their yearly supply.

KEEPING THE COMPANY IN CHECK

Across New England, the spire on city hall typically had prominent clock. Its purpose, I’m told, wasn’t just civic pride.

No, it was to keep the mill owners in check, just in case they were tinkering with their own clocks to squeeze unpaid time out of their workers.

It’s comforting to know the town fathers could stand up to corporate powers. Most of the owners, by the way, lived far from these sources of their wealth. Many of them were Boston Brahmins clustered around Harvard.

In honor of the workers and those who stand up for them, Happy Labor Day.

ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS

At one point in earlier versions of my new novel, What’s Left, I envisioned her family using their financial resources to drive an alternative local economy. The concept survives in the final version of the book, although this passage was boiled way down and many of the details changed:

Dimitri admits our enterprises will operate at the fringes of the economy.

He anticipates other extensions. We’ll encourage other friends to open a bakery. A guitar maker will join in a folk music shop. Rural skills like chair-caning and quilting will find a market here. Not everything we encourage will be quaint, as we’ll discover. Technology might include not just Baba’s darkroom and cameras but recording studios, computer designers, and solar entrepreneurs as well.

~*~

Or, as I noted in another now-deleted passage:

With patience, we’ll assure our dilapidated neighborhood just off campus undergoes rebirth.

~*~

Money issues – especially of an emotional, theological, and personal nature – are a topic I believe worthy of deep discussion. Just look to my Talking Money series archived at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog for inspiration. Admittedly, they’re too big for this novel, though now I’m beginning to wonder about another, maybe as a series of telephone conversations? Please, somebody talk some sense into me!

(Oh, my, now I’m recalling that “financially secure” line in the old personals ads and still wondering exactly what the women meant by that – a guy who has a regular job with benefits or a seven-figure portfolio instead?)

Thinking of operating at the fringes of the larger economy, though, good things can happen. Where do you imagine an infusion of “greenback energy” might empower you or your friends to better the world as we know it?

~*~

The town of Fira on Santorini photographed from the roof of the Archipelagos Restaurant. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

POOLING THEIR FAMILY RESOURCES

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family’s nest egg was built by living on one income – in a single household – while everyone worked at the restaurant. The surplus went into savings and investments. Once the kids come along, their earnings also go in the pooled income, to be drawn out for college or marriage. Over time, as the family grows, the house has parents, grandparents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins. What a circus!

As for pocket money? Take it from the till? Some places, yes. And some places, no.

They’re about to start over, in a way, when Cassia’s father-to-be shows up.

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JUST IMAGINE WHAT YOU’D DO

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

Imagine that your father or mother had started a successful business and you’re in line to inherit it.

What would you want it to be? What would you enjoy doing?

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family business is built around a restaurant and related rental properties nearby.

But there are all kinds of other options. What do you suggest?