Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hard Times… Home Is Where the Heart Is!

I didn't see it coming, but I understand now the inevitability of change! Just like everybody else, I was thrown off my rocker when I showed up to work after Labor Day in 2006. On the door was the notice announcing the closing of our company. Everybody at the company had been talking about closings all around us but we were truck drivers hauling the US mail, so we didn't think that we were that much at risk. We always had to be concerned at contract bidding time, but we were a well-established company with over 25 years at providing good service, so we all were pretty comfortable in knowing that. Every couple years, we got new trucks, and I was very happy with being still until I retired. There would be no company jumping for me. I had finally found a company that I was proud of. We had a union and in the South that was unheard of. The union to me was just a unified effort for the employees to be heard at the table without the “good old boy” system running things.

When the message came down the pipe to the drivers, we discovered that the owner was sick, and he just wanted to cut his losses and retire. However, the company that bought out the contracts did not accept the drivers because we were union represented. There was a long drawn out court battle, but the new companies attorneys found loopholes (politically correct; bought the contracts/ they bought the equipment and the contracts went with it) and over a hundred plus drivers were looking for work, including me. Normally in postal contracts the employees’ rollover with the new contractor, this makes sense, because of the familiarity of the run and continued on-time service. This did not happen, because we were union members. A lot of drivers had to return to over the road driving which they had not done for years. Our runs were to a point, and we had condos or homes at the destination we stayed in until time to bring the load back, which was an eight to 10 hour turnaround.

I understand when a business owner has to do what is in their best interest, however, as employees we always hope that they will take into consideration that what the owner walks away with as profit came from the hard effort of the employees to build that business. In saying that, I recognize that I had only six years with the company but there were those that had been there since the beginning. Most employees left with a good package however, there were a lot of drivers not ready to retire or able to. There were also drivers over the age of 50 that had to go back out into the job market. Even with experience, in our business that can be tough competition in hard times. I was blessed to find two local company offers. I lost about $15,000 a year in pay, which put me in a financial straitjacket.

I had just bought my first home at 45 years old. The monies had come from a lawsuit against a nursing home where my mother had passed. I dedicated my home to my mother's memory, so it was more than just a home for me. I hung onto my home for three more years living paycheck to paycheck. My credit score bottomed out, because everything was getting paid late and I was losing my health to the stress. Finally, I gave up after the entire emotional trauma of letting go and feeling like I had let my mama down. I realize now that my mama would have been the first to tell me not to stress over material possessions. So many times in my mother's life she had to start all over. I remember how happy my mother would be to just have her health to where she could start over. There was never a material thing, that mama held onto above her love for me. If we could just sit in a one-room apartment and break bread together, she was happy. Had I got to the point that my material gain had started defining me? Maybe? I think that this transition has caused me to look at the importance of family, because everything else material can change unexpectedly depending on an economy.

I think a lot of people have been learning this for the last eight years. It's been trying times for a lot of people, but it also has caused people to look at where they placed their value. Hard times cause people to look at what's really important. I've always tried to do better financially for me and my children. I realize now that nothing material can replace the time together,that building memories with my family has provided for me. I hope this has been the case for families all over America and the world. It is the strength within families that build communities which build the world.

The three years I spent trying to hang on to my home was more about the memory of my mom and the wrong that was done to her. I didn't spend those three years fussing about the economy, the politics of the country or that the union failed me because I've been a business owner and that part I understand. Life goes on, and we all begin to realize that with faith, determination and strong will, we will survive. The country is only as strong as its citizens and their families. I am grateful that I had all of the major areas of my life covered by the grace of God and I am blessed to understand that “hard times help us to remember that home is where the heart is!

My heartfelt prayers go out to the families everywhere that are rebuilding their lives with what they have in their new discoveries and understanding their true meaning of home!

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