It’s not like the people I grew up with were wealthy. Our county was predominantly poor and rural. Our teen drop out rate was shockingly high because it “didn’t matter,” and you were Someone if you could afford to shop at the Gap and Old Navy. Color coordinating outfits and a few trapper-keepers. Trapper Keepers? Please. That put you right on the map for stardom in my school.
I lived in a trailer; and not one of those fancy double-wides other kids had. Ours was the good ole extra long ’77 model. It was clean, homey and well kept but an easy way to earn a label. I was the product of a divorced home. My Mom could afford almost none of the “in” brands. Add that to the fact that I was smart, eager and sensitive, and I just thank God that I was a girl and had an awesome circle of friends and family throughout school.
Don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of us and plenty who were worse off. Mom had to use heat assistance a few times, every now and then my step sister and I qualified for the state health care my parents couldn’t afford, and we often paid less for our school lunches. Much of my extended family was also poor and experienced these things often. But then my Stepfather fell very ill, and our almost poverty level income dropped to well below. And in the same asshat thinking that is “just adopt,” people blithely insisted that mom should “just get a degree.” What Mom did was bust her butt. Family helped out. And we went on every assistance program available. Vivid flashes of memory remain from then:
• Burning under the scrutiny as we bought groceries with food stamps.
• Cupping my hand around the free lunch voucher as I handed it to the cashier.
• Shivering as the wind whistled through the trailer’s outlets and shoddy insulation. Heat assistance only covered so much.
• Wondering at Mom’s sharp comments when we’d ask for even a small treat.
• “Sucking it up” during times when we couldn’t afford to go to the doctor.
At the same time, I also remember our happiness when we each got a candy bar during 25 cent sales. We learned how to do a lot for ourselves. We adored going through the bags of almost new (sometimes with tags!) clothes that we got from a relative who cleaned for a doctor. We spent a lot of time with family and with the simple things in life.
I learned a lot. I learned what was most important to me. I learned that anything can happen to anybody and any comfort we have that it can’t is an illusion. I learned that poverty is crushing to escape. I did it only by biting and clawing my way out with a lot of help from a good support system. I got a degree. I worked very hard. I did it all the “right” way, and while I’m much better off, we’re still just a few lost paychecks from disaster.
People sometimes believe that the poor are “lazy, worthless and stupid.” That’s a convenient way to think it could never happen to them. I want to say, “Think about it.” Did you have a college fund? Did you buy your first car? Did you pay your own insurance? Did you help buy things for the family with your first job? If you start out with nothing, it takes a lot more effort to even get to the starting position many others have. You need more loans and acquire more debt. You pay more interest on that debt. You have fewer well-heeled connections for good jobs. Your jobs tend to pay less. You become a trailblazer in your family circle. I’m just so glad I learned all that. I learned about the divide. I learned how to shove my way up, and I’m aware of the yawning abyss on the other side.
Guest Post by Barb from Fertility Challenged in Florida. Barb lives in Florida with her husband and super cute son. She talks to animals and they talk back. She would like it to be noted that the photo of the double wide in this post is not the actual double wide that she lived in. Her double wide was more “quaint and in the forest”.