Living Out Loud

Y'all, They Lied


I have been poor in my life. I grew up in a variety of family situations between my parents' marriages and remarriages and time spent living with other relatives.  I wore hand me down clothes from my cousins and was glad that my grandmother could sew for my sister so that my Mom could afford to occasionally buy my brother and I clothes. We wore those stupid Sears Toughskin jeans that were mostly polyester and never faded and we wore them as they creeped up our legs and the mean kids accused of us of wearing high waters. I once melted the back of my winter coat by backing up to close to a wood heater trying to get warm and then had to wear the melted coat to school until a relative felt sorry for me and bought me a replacement.

I was a teenage parent twice over and worked low wage jobs like cooking at Shoney's, cleaning carpets and a variety of non-union construction jobs, all for less than $5 an hour while also serving in the National Guard on weekends for an extra $89 a month. I rode a bicycle to work and when we finally got a car, my wife wrecked it before it was paid for, and I still had to make car payments for a car that was sitting in a junkyard.

I spent most of my working life as a civil servant, first as a prison guard and then for twenty years I worked for a K-12 school system doing IT support. I managed to land a few promotions and ended up making a fairly decent salary for government work, a situation where you trade higher wages and benefits for stability and job security, or at least you could until the Republican party decided to wage war on public education, a topic for another day. After retiring for a couple of years at home, drawing my state pension, I went back to work, mostly to have something to do, at a private university in their IT department.

My wife of 12 years, who works at the same university I do, is a CPA and an associate vice president for financial affairs there. She makes pretty good dough. She didn't get there overnight though. Like me, she had kids young. She suffered through a medical bankruptcy due to health insurance not covering the complications during the birth of a daughter. She didn't graduate from college until she was nearly 30. She too knows what it was like driving one $1000 car after another.

These days we enjoy not being the poor kids we once were. We both would rather buy experiences than stuff, so we live in an older house and drive used cars, but we can afford to pay a lawn service and we have a house cleaner in a couple of times a month. When we go to the grocery store, we just put the stuff in our cart that we want without having to resort to the old habit of adding stuff up in our head or worrying about having to put something back. If we want to go out to dinner, we do it. We are resigned to paying ridiculous fucking dental bills because we like keeping our teeth. We have a grandson with special mobility needs and we were able to get him an adaptable car. We don't have the money to buy a helicopter or anything, but we do OK.

I'd never in a million years tell a person of meager means, especially a young one that more money wouldn't help their situation or make for a better and happier life. Struggling didn't kill me and I'm proud to have worked my way to where I am today without college and with all of my children successful in their own right, but it wasn't fun. Struggle is struggle and I respect that in everyone involved in it.