Silent swings put sad face on mortgage foreclosures

    For several years, I've driven each work day past a large house nestled on several acres between our rural Jacksonville area home and the office.

    My wife and I nicknamed it the "Motel 6" because its unique architecture looks somewhat like the style used by the motel chain. As a home, it's an intriguing original.

    A couple with young children bought the place a few years ago. They erected a swing set in the fenced playground at the north end of the house. It was a good feeling, knowing these young parents were pursuing the American dream of owning their own home.

    The family was obviously happy. One sunny summer morning I saw a giggling toddler running before a laughing parent who scooped the squirming youngster up in loving arms. On another day there were balloons tied to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, apparently for a birthday party. The playground was a joyful place.

    But the swing set is gone now.

    The house sits empty, the apparent result of a mortgage foreclosure. A "For Sale" sign went up some six months ago. The young family has left.

    For me, the silent playground puts a family face on the reams of legal foreclosure notices now running daily in the paper like so many tombstones.

    I can only imagine the anguish the parents must have felt when they packed their things. A pang of sadness stabs me each time I go by the empty house.

    While the national media focus on our huge, impersonal financial system, I worry about those individual families who have lost their homes. Where do they go? Do they farm the kids out until they can get back on their financial feet? Who do they turn to? Or is the anger and stress too much for husband and wife to keep the marriage together?

    No doubt our nation faces a monstrous economic challenge, the likes of which haven't been seen perhaps since the Great Depression. Wall Street is drowning in a sea of bad mortgage debts. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and now Washington Mutual — representing the largest bank failure in U.S. history — have gone belly up.

    Meanwhile, the debate over the $700 billion bailout goes on. Many economists seem to agree something needs to be done since Wall Street drives our national economics. Yet others think a bailout is a mistake.

    I'm not too keen on Uncle Sam bailing out greedy people who made bad investments. Nor should those who lied about their credit or turned a blind eye to a clearly phony loan application be rewarded with a bailout. Perhaps the latter should be offered another form of bail.

    I readily confess I don't know squat about business, much less high finance. What worries me is that minds much bigger than mine don't seem to agree on a solution.

    No one has explained to my financially challenged mind precisely how the bailout will permanently solve the problem or how it will avoid similar problems in the future.

    Like everyone else, I have a personal stake in the matter. My wife and I have a home mortgage and a 401(k).

    We also bought a small commercial parcel in Medford last summer. We were a bit nervous about taking out a small business loan but are confident the business she has owned and operated for 15 years will continue to flourish.

    Incidentally, those who know us will tell you she is the brains in the outfit. Me, I'm just the handyman.

    We spent every day off during the summer working on the property. The moving date was delayed after the handyman broke his ankle. But, thanks to the help of friends volunteering with hammer and saws, Maureen's business should be moved in by the end of October. We remain confident in our ability to survive.

    Yet we know that if the business goes south, there will be no bailout for us. But we will suck in our guts and go on.

    Obviously, the potential failure of the economic machine that runs our nation's finances is a much weightier matter. Our international power is directly dependent on our economic might. We need to do what is necessary to keep it running.

    I just hope those young families who, through no fault of their own, have been forced by illness or layoff to leave their homes are not forgotten.

    I want to see those swings back in that playground.

    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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