(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been remembering that even in the depths of depression, some people were able to maintain positive attitudes.
(LANGE) The irrepressible Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith-Johannsen introduced Nordic skiing to North America. He lived to be 111, and was one of the most positive characters I’ve ever met. He was a Pollyanna, without any of the negative connotations that label has acquired. His successful business went broke in the crash of ’29. Undaunted, he and his family decamped the Lake Placid Club and moved to the Laurentians. "Many of my wealthy friends went out of windows in despair," he said. "I went out of doors!"
Jackrabbit found his bliss in the Canadian bush, teaching skiing, cutting cross-country trails, developing ski areas north of Montreal, and persuading unemployed loggers to join the cause. He loved the company of beautiful women; after my last interview with him, when he was only 106, he pinched Mother on her way out of the house.
His was a perfect example of one reaction to bad news. Our current economic mess sounds a lot like that of the 20s: a period of euphoria; years of falling real estate prices; properties mortgaged for more than their value; banks overextended. And finally the first doubts, anxiety, and selloffs creating the bear market and the crash.
It may seem insensitive to say to a family that’s just lost its home, "Cheer up! Better days are coming." A loss like that ranks on the stress scale nearly as high as the loss of an immediate family member. And yet, when it happened to Mother and me about 23 years ago, that cheery nostrum was exactly what I, at least, needed to hear (she was sure of it). The sense of purpose we experienced in our recovery is marvelous to remember. It reinforced what we’d long suspected: when you’re up against it, and circumstances peel off your outer layers, as of an onion, you become what you’re capable of, for better or worse.
Years ago I was involved in an Outward Bound program at Dartmouth College. Among other exercises, we turned our students loose in Boston, alone for three days with ten cents in their pockets. The idea was to see how creative each could be. My favorite was the student who spotted a theater marquee with some blown-out bulbs and asked if he could replace them. That was only the beginning; he ate regularly and returned with much more than a dime.
This crash isn’t going to be as bad as the last one. California’s pretty dry, but we don’t have a Dust Bowl at our doorstep. For now, we need to help anyone less fortunate than we to find the marquees with the blown-out lights. We need to remember that ultimately we’re all of us in the same boat.
Eleanor H. Porter, the author of the Pollyanna books, was a native of Littleton, New Hampshire. Every summer the town celebrates Pollyanna Glad Day in honor of her sunny contribution to our national consciousness. Jackrabbit would have loved it!
This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.