December 29, 2011

Did I Grow Up Poor? You Tell Me.

"I had to walk to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways."

I've never clucked that at my daughter, but I make darn sure that she knows we're blessed. Our family does and has things that would have been unthinkable to my husband or me as children. We've taken a family trip to Disneyworld. Sure it was over three years ago, but we did it.

We've never had to negotiate with WE Energies to avoid a gas or electricity shut-off, but I remember my mom wrangling those kinds of phone calls more than once.  So, despite the stats that say ours is the first generation that is not doing better than their parents, in many respects, I think we are.  In fact, Georgia reminded me of it just this morning. Out of the clear blue, she asked:

"Was Grandma GeeGee poor?

Grandma GeeGee is my late mother. Georgia never got to know her, but I tell plenty of stories about Grandma GeeGee, and stories that help Georgia understand how much easier her life is than mine ever was as a kid. Those stories must have stuck, because she was really wondering if I grew up poor.

The fact is that my dad (who's also deceased) worked for thirty years at AO Smith , a factory that like so many of the factories in Milwaukee, has moved overseas.
He took his vacations in the summer, but instead of vacationing, he painted the houses of rich suburbanites for extra money. In between all of that, he was an associate pastor at our church and picked up a few bucks marrying, burying and baptizing people. Not necessarily in that order.

These days, my mom would wear the trendy crown of SAHM, but back in the 70's "working moms" were the exception -- not the norm.
She added to the family income by watching the kids of the emerging generation of moms entering the workplace. She also gave voice lessons here and there until the family dog started "singing" along with one of her students.

On the flip side, we owned a large home in a nice neighborhood. As kids, we were all given excellent educations; and traveled in show choirs, participated in sports, theater and whatever lessons that interested us at the time

If things had been different, say: if my parents only had one child instead of four; or if we had attended free public schools versus tuition-based Christian schools, those utility shut-off notices probably wouldn't have come and we probably would've taken annual vacations.

My parents had decided that sacrificing made more sense than cutting back on the quality of education, or more sense than cutting back on the number of children in the family for that matter. (Which is a good thing because I'm the youngest) Their clothes were dowdy. Only my dad had winter boots, and that was because he walked five miles to and from work in the snow.  We never heard complaints from either of them. Sacrificing was just part of the deal.

Some people might think my upbringing was poor because we didn't do or have some of the extra-extra curriculars, but I don't. In fact, I think we were actually richer for it; and that's what I told my daughter this morning. I think she got it, but that's a pretty heady concept for a nine year old, even a smart one like her. But that's okay.

The whole conversation -- or monologue as it was -- convinced me that in some ways we're better off than the generation before. But I think they've got us beaten by a mile when it comes to sacrifice.


  1. The summer spent at your house is one of the most cherished of my life. It certainly was an education in cross cultures -- and humor --- OMG, LOTS of humor!!!!!
    Larry Young.

  2. Wouldn't have traded it for anything, Larry. And I know that my mom wouldn't have had it any other way.