Riches to Rags

Write about a millionaire who suddenly loses his fortune and finds himself without any possessions.

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  1. bilbobaggins321

    NOVEMBER 16TH, 1976

    They always, always say that right before you die your life flashes before your eyes. And I’ve never heard anyone discredit or concur with this idea, mainly because they’re dead right now. Maybe, as I approach my final hours this winter day, I’ll find out.

    My wife hovers at the side of my bed constantly, watching over me patiently as the doctor probes me with all kinds of instruments. I’ve tried to take the sudden illness with humor so far, but this past week there has been a change from the hopefulness to the sullen, lines in all of our faces etched by discouragement.

    Well, this is it, I muse to myself. What’s behind the door? Being staunchly Catholic my whole life, I remain excited to see heaven and all its rewards. I have done much in my life that is commendable. Every month I went to confession, and even now the priest is right behind the doctor for the last rites.

    But, as my thoughts parade before me like Thanksgiving Day floats, some are black and ugly, disrupting my religious and magnanimous life, scars. The greatest of them all is from late 1929, when my world fell apart, and instead of working to get out of the hole, I collapsed deeper into another one that I had dug.
    This is the story of that incident, but I promise that it will be short, seeing that I hardly have the strength to speak more than five minutes long at a time.

    SEPTEMBER, 1929

    My brain takes me back to fonder, more eloquent, picturesque days, bordered in kindness and pure gold. It was the winding-down years of the Roaring Twenties, the years of plenty, when you could buy a whole car on credit, drive it home for free, and not bat an eye, because it was only $500 dollars. I owned a mansion back then, in southern New York, drove a half hour every weekday into the metropolis of rising towers of metal and promise. I worked in stocks, a very promising and rich sector of life, as did my father.

    Let’s see, I was born in 1896, so by 1929 I was around 23 or something like that. A very good age for making foolish decisions, especially with a silver spoon handed to me from old Pop. An heir of a rich fortune from stocks and owning parts of lucrative companies had made the family millionaires. When father died in 1928 from a sudden illness, I was on cloud nine. A whole 60 million dollars was plopped into my lap as soon as his lungs exhaled their last. I was young, unprepared, to handle the business.

    Needless to say, during that first year I blew at least 2 million of it on absurd expenditures, such as a second automobile, an expanded guest wing for the mansion, three horses, a sailboat, and even a small airplane, which I had no clue how to fly, but it was fashionable, indeed. By late 1929 it seemed as if we had reached the Promised Land. Stocks were rising heaven high, and we were raking in 10 million a year. The upper crust had reached its zenith. Little did we all know that within six months, it would be at its nadir.

    I first heard the news of the stock market crash on the 29th of October, Black Tuesday. I had just woken up, and was having coffee and reading on the front portico when, suddenly, my brother, who was two years younger than me, came rushing up the drive in his 1928 Ford Roadster, nearly rushing out of his seat before he had stopped the car. He was running as fast as he could on his gimpy leg, yelling out, “Richard! Richard!” at the top of his lungs, a look of incredible alarm that I had never seen before on his face gripping his eyes.

    He was halfway across the yard, when I stood and rushed towards him.
    “What is it, Jack? What!? A building burn or something? Are we at war?”
    He shook his head tiredly, gesturing that he needed a second to catch his breath.
    “No.” He gasped. “Worse.” He slung his arm around me, the maid on the porch peering at us curiously.
    “I just got back from the Stock Exchange. Dow Jones has fallen a record 60 points.”
    My eyes bugged out at it. Immediately I jumped into action, hurtling into the house with all my strength, told Louisa, my wife of 4 years, and gathered my coat and books.

    My brother was still waiting for me, with a look of shock still registering on his face. I surfaced out of the hallway. “To the garage!” I yelled furiously. “We must get there at once!”
    “It’s no use,” he announced placidly. “It’s no use.” He lumbered slowly, deliberately, to the porch, where I saw him discreetly reach for his handkerchief.
    Meanwhile, I started up the car as fast as I possibly could, taking off for the city. I could hardly believe it. Our fortune was wiped away in the course of just two days. I urged the car to somehow go faster.

    I arrived at Wall Street just an hour later, needing to have parked the car three blocks away and walk, the crowds of now unemployed men were so dense. Shouting and protesting were everywhere, and policemen were closely watching the doors of all of the banks, especially the Stock Exchange. I wrestled myself to the front, almost being hit by a few men wanting to save their spot, reached the policemen.

    “I need to get in there!” I wildly cried out to one of the officers, gesticulating towards the door.
    “Sorry, sir,” he replied with narrowed eye. “It’s all full in there. Whatever money you had in there, its probably gone by now.” He unceremoniously turned to the side. “Good day.”
    I was shocked out of my wits. Someone shoved my back to the side.
    “Not so high and mighty now, eh?” Some rough-and-tumble skyscraper worker cackled beside me. I almost didn’t even hear him. I retreated out of the crowd, feeling that the sky was falling on me. I barely felt myself moving as I walked back, started up the car, and drove back up past the streets. The skyscrapers were now no longer spires of wealth, but giants mocking my frailty.

    A month later, I sat in my mansion, or whatever was left of it, sitting stonily in my chair across from my wife. Half of our fortune was irretrievably lost in the stock market, 30 million down the tubes. And now, almost every day for the past two weeks, we had been forced to sell the airplane, car, and half of our furniture to pay for all of the bills and credit. And the stocks kept falling still. As for my brother Jack, he had not surfaced from his room for the past twelve hours, and I did not expect him to in the next twelve.

    “We must accept what God has given us,” I said, harsh and cold. “No regrets.”
    “Some wisdom saying that,” my wife said. “You’re the one that wasted our money on foolish things.”
    I suddenly exploded, leaping out of my chair.
    “You stupid fool!” I announced, scaring the remaining maids back into the halls. “You approved all this, goaded me on, petted my pretty cash like it was some lost pet that would always return! The lavish parties, the dresses, all of it!” She stood as well.
    “Look, Richard. We didn’t know that this was going to happen. You are right that we must forget the past. Now simmer down, and admit that we both made mistakes in the past four years.”
    I wearily sat down, and so did she. The grandfather clock kept ticking.

    By six months after that, the middle of 1930, what we now all called the Great Depression had begun. Our fortune was virtually gone, but we were determined to hold on- together. We would eventually survive the depression, going on to live in more prosperity after the Second World War, have three children, and more.

    But that, my friend, is a story for another day, for the other side.