December 2, 2020 – Life Themes (Poverty)

I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be ‘born with a silver spoon’ in your mouth. I cannot begin to imagine it. It seems like such a foreign concept. Living a life of luxury and not having to constantly review the balance in your checking account to make sure you’ve got enough to get you through to the end of the month. Buying things without ever checking the price tag first because the price is inconsequential. Not constantly worrying about how long your car is going to last because when it does finally give out, how will you afford to replace it? To have the ability to go into a grocery store and not have to spend an absurd amount of time looking at shelf labels to determine which product is available for the lowest amount per ounce. Oh my gosh! I don’t know if I could handle it! I really don’t. I’ve spent my entire life ‘squeezing nickels’ that I’m not sure I’d be able to deal with being someone with ‘large cash reserves’.

When I was born, there weren’t any silver spoons available, but there were some tin ones, so that’s what I ended up with. But when the maternity ward nurse noticed it, she yanked it out of my mouth because she was afraid I was going to choke on it. That’s what I tell people anyway. No, there was never any sort of spoon in my mouth when I was born, silver, tin, plastic, wood or otherwise. I was born into a family with very little financial means. There were 11 of us total, 2 parents and 9 children. Money was tight, to put it mildly. If you needed a ‘new’ outfit, you either got hand-me-downs from your older siblings or you took a trip to the thrift store. Breakfast was usually oatmeal or cream of wheat, lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or pork & beans with sliced hot dogs and dinner was whatever my mom could scrape together. What did we do with the leftovers? Ha! Leftovers? There were never leftovers. Once my mom dished up the food, we were like a bunch of hungry buzzards picking a carcass clean.

Another thing we didn’t have ‘hanging around’? Snacks. It’s so strange because nowadays, I cannot imagine not having snacks in the cupboard. We always have a stash of chips and crackers and nuts and cookies and maybe some beef jerky if I can find it on sale. But that wasn’t the case when I was a child. Our refrigerator generally housed a few of the basic necessities, milk, butter, cheese, jelly, hot dogs, mustard, ketchup and maybe whatever meat and vegetables my mom was going to prepare for dinner. And in the pantry, there was usually bread, peanut butter, tomato sauce, pork & beans, canned vegetables, canned soup, Jell-O mix, single serving packets of dry spaghetti mix, pasta, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda along with an assortment of spices. If you had a hankering for soda, cookies, potato chips or sugary cereal, you weren’t going to find them in our house. Those things were reserved for ‘rich’ kids.

You got your three meals and that was it. If you were hungry in between, you had to get inventive. That’s where having neighbors with snacks came in handy. When my family used to get together, before it became irretrievably fractured, my siblings would often joke about one of my brothers (Wily Fox) who could always seem to ‘worm’ his way into someone’s house as a means to gain access to their pantry. He discovered that the neighbors that lived directly across the street from us had quite a nice selection of cold, sugary cereals to choose from and he made fast friends with them. Sometimes we would peer through the window and see him devouring two or three bowls of cereal at their kitchen table from our vantage point in the livingroom. The rest of us weren’t that brazen. But we did take advantage of the fruit trees in our neighborhood that grew the most divine cherries, apples and pears. It didn’t matter whose yard they were in. We picked them clean. I don’t even think the birds had a chance.

Being ‘poor’ was my normal. I didn’t know any other way to be. And I feel as if it branded me somehow, at least inwardly. Only for a short period of time in my adult life have I been ‘comfortable’. By that, I mean when I’m not constantly worried about how to make ends meet. That short period lasted for about 4 years and it started after my husband finally achieved the highest senior enlisted rank in the military and it ended upon his retirement. It was glorious while it lasted. We were able to take a few nice vacations with our children, purchase new vehicles and even put some money into savings at long last. Once he retired, the rug got pulled out from under us. We lived off our savings until the savings was nearly gone, and then we sold one of our cars and lived off that money for a while. In the meantime, we each desperately looked for a job to supplement my husband’s pension that we were both so incredibly grateful for, but that just wasn’t/isn’t nearly enough to cover the mortgage and utilities and groceries and so on.

Why am I bringing this up today? My youngest son mentioned that his girlfriend’s mother might sell her condo to them for a ‘steal’. And I’m so incredibly happy for them because I know how hard it is to afford any type of property these days. But I honestly wish I could do the same. Or even just to have the means to help my kids out with a down payment on a home, or to put them through college, or set them up with some kind of nest egg. Those weren’t options made available to me but I had hoped things would be different for my own children. I talked to my mom the other day and I told her I wish it could have been me that had the opportunity to sell one of my homes to one of my kids for a ‘steal’ in order to give them a leg up. And then I asked her, “Where are all the rich aunts and uncles that were supposed to leave me a sizable inheritance?” I was kidding of course. They don’t exist. But she said, “There are none.” And then she mentioned that she wished she could have given us more, but she was always ‘poor’, too.

‘Poor’ is an interesting word, when you think about it. I look around my home and compared to many, I’m doing pretty well. I am probably somewhere in the ‘lower middle class’ category. I am definitely doing better by leaps and bounds than how I was as a child. And when I observe the extreme poverty around the globe, I actually feel a bit ashamed writing this. To say I was born into poverty compared to some child rummaging through garbage in a third-world country? There is no comparison. I have a home to return to each day, a comfortable bed to sleep in and plenty of food to eat. Honestly, what the hell am I complaining about?! I don’t mean to complain if that’s how I’m coming across. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though I may appear ‘comfortable’, I am always waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under me. I live in constant fear. I think that’s what happens when you’re born and raised ‘poor’.

And I should clarify, I mean ‘poor’ by U.S. standards. You continually live with the fear that something’s bound to happen, that you can never truly get ‘comfortable’. You live month to month, check to check, and hope nothing disastrous happens in order to prevent the dominos from tipping over. It doesn’t take much. The loss of a job, a medical emergency, the loss of a spouse or any number of scenarios and the dominos start to fall. I am so grateful right now because I know how many people have had the rug pulled out from under them and I’ve still got mine planted firmly under my feet. I guess if there were ever a time, now is the time to ‘count your blessings’. When you get overwhelmed and wonder how you’re going to get through next week, let alone next month, sometimes you just have to take a look around. When I start feeling like life is rather bleak, it’s so easy to put the focus on what I don’t have. But when I flip it around and focus on what I do have, it helps to put things into perspective.

As I said earlier, I have a home to return to each day, a comfortable bed to sleep in and plenty of food to eat. I have a loving husband that puts up with me, a goofy dog that insists I take her for a walk every other day (which benefits both of us), and three children that are really incredible people and make me proud. I live in a small town where people are generally kind and it is surrounded by nature. There’s a lot of good stuff when I think about it. And since I’m thinking about all of the good stuff, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you. I cannot begin to tell you how much you mean to me! When you read what I write and show your support, it makes me feel like I’m not so alone in this world. It might sound ridiculous, but having this blog is helping me hold it together right now. So thank you! And on that note, I probably should go. It’s getting late and I’ve got to drag my old bones upstairs and into bed. I wish all of you well, my friends! Until we meet again.


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