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ALEX CHADWICK:

And we're going to listen to a kitchen conversation now to hear how the fear that Dr. Peterson talks about feels at home. NPR News has been holding these talks around the country, families discussing at a forum that the presidential candidates sometimes mention: the kitchen table. That's where families talk about how to pay tuition. What about retirement? Really now, what about everything? From Dallas, here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

(Soundbite of man and children)

WADE GOODWYN: It's late afternoon at the Ironside home. Seven-year-old Claudia, 6-year-old Anabelle and Sterling, the athletic, 4-year-old boy, are jumping over their father's outstretched legs as he relaxes on the couch - or tries to, anyway. Steven's 36-year-old wife, Debbie, has just come back from a three-mile run. The exercise is a stress reliever. Over the last year, the economy has served up two significant and, to some extent, traumatic changes in the family's life. The first involved Debbie. Seven months ago, she went from being a happy, stay-at-home mom with three young children to going back to work full-time. She says it's been hard on the children, hard on her husband and most of all, herself. The children miss her and she's guilty and sad.

Ms. DEBORAH IRONSIDE: Well, because I was not home with my children anymore. I couldn't pick my children up from school; somebody else had to pick my kids up from school. I had to put my youngest son in a program, a school program full time - which is a very good school but still, he was 3. And I wasn't - emotionally, I wasn't as ready as I thought I was, so that was hard.

GOODWYN: The other difficult transition involved Stephen. Ironside is a master carpenter who emigrated from Scotland 15 years ago, married a Texas girl, became a permanent resident, and settled down and started a successful millwork business. He employed as many as 25 people. But when the housing bubble burst last year, the booming Texas economy began to falter. In the Dallas area, it wasn't devastating by any means, but Ironside began noticing that the restaurants, bars, movie theaters and hotels who hired him to do their finish-out work were taking longer and longer to settle their accounts.

Mr. STEPHEN IRONSIDE (Owner of a Millwork): It was getting harder and harder for companies to, you know, part with the checks to pay you. And it was a lot more nickel and dime-ing. They would start to, you know, cut back on change orders, and fight you, you know, tooth and nail for every cent.

GOODWYN: Even though there was still plenty of work, Ironside found himself lying awake at night. He worried about making payroll. And the cash -flow uncertainties meant that his own bills weren't always getting paid on time.

Mr. IRONSIDE: Even before the banks folded this week, or last week, our clients were pulling back, and everybody was waiting for the economy to try to stabilize, and see exactly what was going to happen. So there's a lot of fear out there, especially for small businesses that they are not going to get the funding and finances that's required.

GOODWYN: This summer, Ironside made a hard decision. He sent his workers on their way and took an offer to be a project manager for a commercial construction company. He's now an employee, not an employer. The Ironsides say they aren't suffering any ill effects from the collapse on Wall Street - not yet, anyway. Debbie says their lifestyle began to change months ago, when the price of gasoline, groceries and other commodities shot up. That was the catalyst, not Lehman Brothers' sorry fate.

Ms. IRONSIDE: We think twice about where we're going to go, why we're going there, you know. Our family doesn't visit as much, you know, and they're just across town in Grapevine, Euless, Bedford area. And it used to be twice a week that we would get together. My sister would come over here or I would go over there with the kids - playdates. Playdates don't happen as much.

GOODWYN: Debbie and Stephen say they don't feel threatened financially by what's happening in New York and Washington, D.C., but they're angry about it. Debbie's a Republican, but she supported the government's effort to rescue the banks and theoretically avert economic catastrophe.

Ms. IRONSIDE: It's a plan. I mean, what's the alternative?

GOODWYN: Stephen's a Democrat. He also supported the Wall Street bailout, but his is a more class-centered analysis as to who's to blame for the financial debacle.

Mr. IRONSIDE: The greedy bankers, the subprime mortgage lenders, Wall Street, all of them.

GOODWYN: The Ironsides admit to occasional thoughts, remembrances, really, of the stories their grandparents told them about what life was like during the Great Depression. But in the fall of 2008, that seems so long ago. This Dallas family believes that the sharp-pencil boys running the Treasury and the Fed have learned their history well enough, that the government knows how to keep something like that from happening again. At least, the Ironsides hope so. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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