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So how bad do we have it standing in line to buy laptops?
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Just how bad do we have it?

Judging by the Thanksgiving Day newscasts not as bad as we think we do.

It is true that unemployment in California has topped 12 percent and that foreclosures are still piling up while government at all levels id going on crash financial diets that are hopefully shedding fat without cutting into the muscle.

But between the stories of the demand for free meals and the requests at food closets being up significantly as well as the story of one Brentwood family that has been able to keep their home and enjoy Thanksgiving at home through a loan adjustment were three reports of how people were coping with Christmas in these challenging economic times.

One San Jose woman was talking about how rough the downturn has been on her family before rattling off a list of stuff she intended to buy after waiting in a Best Buy parking lot overnight. The list included a couple of big screen TVs, an MP3 player and two laptops.

Another woman told a TV reporter that things were tight and they were cutting back on spending as she struggled to hold about two dozen articles of clothing while waiting in a checkout line at an Old Navy store. Still another talked with consumers at the San Francisco Auto Show including one bemoaning the weak economy before saying he would probably be buying a new Mercedes in 2010.

Tom Joad meet the 2009 version of the “Grapes of Wrath”.

Yes, there are some barely getting by plus a fairly good-sized group of people among those that constitute the homeless who do not follow the rules and want things on their own terms even when it means they can get help from friends, family, charity, or government and opt to stay on the streets.

The vast majority of us aren’t drowning in the downturn although it is safe to say that can change with the loss of the job since more than a few of us are the proverbial check or two away from the edge.

Yet when stores are packed and non-necessities – sorry but big screen TVs, iPods, cell phones that can run nuclear power plants and download MTV, and video games aren’t essential to survival – are flying off the shelves this isn’t a repeat of The Great Depression.

It is unfortunate what has happened with housing where many buyers either let greed, bit off more than they should of, hoped against hope that the bubble would keep going , didn’t fully understand what they were doing, or in the case of those hit by unemployment are losing their homes.

It is not the end of the world and they aren’t the first Americans forced to start over because of an economic meltdown.

Edna Towle – my maternal grandmother – was forced to sell her 1,000-acre ranch at the height of the Great Depression in 1936 in order to meet bank loans. She had been abandoned by her husband to run the ranch in the foothills of Nevada County with seven kids to raise in 1929.

With three kids still at home at age 55, she moved to town and started cleaning houses, working the night shift at the cannery, and took on odd jobs. She bought a small lot and built her own home by her own hand going along as she could.

The house is more than modest by today’s standard. It has three bedrooms, one bathroom, and less than 800 square feet.

She never complained, never looked back, and never cursed her lot in life. She had kids yet to raise and had to support herself. She did what she had to do.

I would argue that my grandmother was one of the most successful people I’ve ever met. When she died at age 85, all of the possessions she had were essentially in her modest home as she didn’t even have a car.  But she raised seven kids essentially on her own, refused to wallow in self-pity, demanded of herself and others that they do the best they could, and paid all of her debts. And she also made sure to help those who were less fortunate however she could.

She also refused to judge herself against others who had more material things.

It is something that those who have to start over today should keep in mind especially if they are not among those who are walking away from their home simply because it is worth less today than it was when they bought it. There is great dignity in doing the right thing. There is no shame in failing if you tried to do the right thing but couldn’t overcome circumstances.  You can fail and you can get back up again.

Success in life isn’t about big screen TVs, big houses, touring Europe, or the latest gadgets. It is about how you deal with trials and tribulations.