Harmon Gow, known as the town's "oracle" is known in such a way because of the in-depth knowledge and experiences that he has lived through in Starkfield.
As he claims, he had been living there since before the carts and trolleys were roaming about. Starkfield, a desolate, cold place had been his home his entire life.
When the narrator puts forth the inquiry as to what exactly is the problem with Ethan, Gow explains that a series of unfortunate events have occurred to Ethan and have brought him totally down on his luck.
First, Ethan's father fell ill and, as part of his illness, he
gave away money like Bible texts afore he died.
After basically giving away the family money, Ethan's mother also fell ill and went "soft like a baby". We know that Ethan was particularly affected by her illness, as she was unable to speak, leaving the house quite impossible to live in.
When Zeena, a cold and frigid person, comes to take care of Ethan's mother, she eventually also falls ill. This is why Gow claims
Sickness and trouble: that's what Ethan's had his plate full up with, ever since the very first helping.