There is a house behind ours, across the retention pond, that is the same design and color as ours. Our home was the builder’s model, so it was built first and a few months after we moved in a family moved in behind us. They’d moved to Florida from California, determined to make a life here selling real estate. Our sons were the same age and we became casual friends the way American suburbanites do; that is, we knew each others’ first names.
They were great people, very involved in their local church and into fitness in a very California way, out walking as a family every evening past our house. They put in a pool (I didn’t want one) and their home became the center for all the neighborhood’s kids, we could hear everyone yelling and splashing on warm central Florida evenings. For nine years we kept track of them, knowing that the real estate business was getting tough and wondering how they were doing. Little things tipped us off, the grass was dying, the palm trees untrimmed, and we knew that maybe they weren’t doing so well. One day there was a food truck parked in the driveway, they had gone into the mobile restaurant business, selling pupusas, drawing on their El Salvadoran roots. They weren’t going down without a fight.
One morning last week I set off for my walk and the Dad was loading a trailer with the help of some friends, and I had my answer. He was on the phone when I walked by, averting his eyes when I tried to make a connection. I kept walking, not wanting to add to his shame. That afternoon, my son confirmed it, they’d left the house to the bank and found a nearby rental. The house sits empty now, there is an empty house on every single block of the neighborhoods around here, sometimes two. I wonder if everyone of them was owned by someone who tried so hard to play by the rules as our neighbors did.
My neighborhood was ground zero for the housing boom, we border the northern tip of Disneyworld and tourists can’t help but think what a great place this would be to raise a family. It is: like I often say, we might not live in the happiest place on earth, but we can see it from here. We can hear it to, hear the train and steamboat whistles, and hear the nightly fireworks (and no, we never get sick of them). A couple of years after we arrived, people slept in their cars to buy lots as soon as they went on sale in a new development right near us; it was a gold rush. We even got unsolicited calls from realtors offering to buy our house for double what we paid. Not so much anymore.
The economy of our area is service based and the reality of living in Orlando is different than the glimpse you get of it on vacation, there is poverty here. Some of us fall down and can’t get back up.
I hope our now former neighbors will be okay. I pray they will and I know they will pray too, they are devout people who trust in God with all their hearts. We wonder if the lesson being taught is necessary, will their kids be changed forever and will they learn an undeserved lesson about going for the American dream. I also pray for those who lose their homes because they can’t afford health insurance and get sick, I pray for those who thought they could make it through these hard times and bought into the idea that houses can only go up in value and jobs will always be plentiful.
I work in the financial services industry and we are infamous for running ads about our clients retiring to their own vineyard or sailing around the world in a high tech sailboat. In reality, most people are trying to maintain, hoping they can keep their possessions when they retire and praying that the nursing home doesn’t get their money before their kids do. A lot of us have fallen down, a lot of us are not that far from loading our stuff onto a trailer and moving out of our cherished homes.
I hope that those of us left standing will have the grace to help them back up.
Garth Brooks has a song about this that I play and sing on my guitar, I wish I had the guts to sing it for you here, but the lyrics will have to do, it’s called Wolves and those lyrics are much more powerful than anything I could possibly say.
January’s always bitter
But Lord this one beats all
The wind ain’t quit for weeks now
And the drifts are ten feet tall
I been all night drivin’ heifers
Closer in to lower ground
Then I spent the mornin’ thinkin’
‘Bout the ones the wolves pulled down
Charlie Barton and his family
Stopped today to say goodbye
He said the bank was takin’ over
The last few years were just too dry
And I promised that I’d visit
When they found a place in town
Then I spent a long time thinkin’
‘Bout the ones the wolves pull down
Lord please shine a light of hope
On those of us who fall behind
And when we stumble in the snow
Could you help us up while there’s still time
Well I don’t mean to be complainin’ Lord
You’ve always seen me through
And I know you got your reasons
For each and every thing you do
But tonight outside my window
There’s a lonesome mournful sound
And I just can’t keep from thinkin’
‘Bout the ones the wolves pull down
Oh Lord keep me from bein’
The one the wolves pull down