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Life Imitates Art

Last week I fulfilled a long-held promise and took my 8-year-old daughter to Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. For those of you fortunate enough not to be caught up in the very lucrative American Girl phenomenon - can you say ka-ching! - Kit is the Depression-era fictional character, and the movie follows her macap adventures during those hard times. I can say that the foreclosure signs being pounded into the lawns of the homes in Cincinnati had a certain ring of familiarity to them these days, as Kit and her friends would watch from their treehouse as yet another neighbor’s belongings were hauled to the curb. Kit’s attempts, on the other hand, to have her story on Depression-era life from a kid’s eye view published in the Cincinnati Register fell a little short of believability, although Wallace Shawn was quite entertaining as the gruff city editor.

So why am I prattling on about a movie based on a doll, who, as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus pointed out, no one could actually afford during the Depression? Because the movie’s plot centers around Kit’s family being forced to open their home to boarders to pay the mortgage and keep it from being seized by the bank - a common occurence during the Depression. Then, this morning, I scrolled through the New York Times to see this: “More Homeowners Taking in Boarders.” According to the story, “modest but growing” numbers of homeowners are turning to agencies that screen boarders so they can use the rent payments to keep their homes:

“We’re seeing greater numbers of marginal people,” said Kirby Dunn, executive director of HomeShare Vermont, one of several hundred programs around the country that have been formed since the 1980’s to help elderly or disabled homeowners exchange spare rooms for income or, more often, help around the house, but now being pressed to meet different needs.“Historically,” Ms. Dunn said, “the people who come to us have been looking for someone to provide services in the home. But now, money is the bigger issue for folks. There’s definitely an increase in people looking for a revenue stream.”Ms. Dunn said volume at the agency was up this year, with three or four times as many people seeking rooms as seeking boarders.

This story seems a little light on the numbers. But who knows, it could be the latest trend. In Kit’s case, one of the boarders turned out to be a scam artist and a thief and - spoiler alert ahead - the plucky 10-year-old uncovers it all, defends the saintly hobo who was falsely accused, and gets her story published in the Register. But why see the movie, anyway, when real life seems to be imitating it so closely.

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