By Tony Russell

He was listening to the news, and his granddaughter was proudly making a hat for him with the new knitting needles she got for Christmas. "Grandpa," said the little girl without looking up, "what's 'austerity' mean?"

It's funny what kids will pick up when you have no idea they're paying attention to what's happening around them, he thought, not for the first time. He studied her for a minute. He'd known this day would come, but he hadn't expected it to come so soon. Was she old enough to have this discussion? "Heck," he finally said to himself, "if she's old enough for Harry Potter novels, she's old enough to be told about austerity."

"'Austerity' is another word for what we used to call 'hard times' back when I was a boy," he began.

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