A few days ago my son, Jack, said “growing up poor was awesome.”
I pressed him to explain what the hell he was talking about. As far as I’m concerned being poor is not awesome, it’s not even kind-of-cool. Being poor sucks and ranks right up there with having the chicken pox.
First, I want to state, we have never been poor. When Jack and Mary were little, we were clinging to the lower end of middle class but we were never poor. Jack and Mary however, love telling stories about their glorious, impoverished, redneck childhood.
When they were little, we never went on vacations. Instead, we spent almost every weekend in the summer playing in the creek not far from the house. I would pack up their friends, Bryce and Kay, some cheap red sodas and crackers. They would slide around on the little rock water fall for hours and we would catch army’s of crawdads, then then turn them all loose.
One winter we couldn’t afford to go to the skating rink in Little Rock so we tried to make one in the yard with a giant piece of plastic and the garden hose. It didn’t work but we laughed a lot.
All their clothes came from Wal-Mart. Until Jack was in 6th grade. The whole family was ridiculous proud of his first expensive pair of shoes. Alex paid $80 for a pair of And One basketball shoes. The entire team was impressed. Back then, it was a really big deal when anyone at Fountain Lake got a new pair of Nikes much less And Ones.
Ok, we were pretty broke most of the time. The kids never qualified for free lunches but I do remember, after church we would roll through the Burger King drive through and get one happy meal. One child got the burger and one got the fries and they split the drink. A two happy meal day was a really big deal.
At least once a year Alex had to pawn his 9 mm hand gun so we could buy school supplies (those cost 120 for both kids) or buy Christmas presents. But we always paid off the loan and and got his gun back. Good news now Alex has an arsenal and he hasn’t pawned anything in years.
But all their friends were in the same shabby economic party barge so they didn’t realize just how broke we were. We had food, electricity and a lot of fun. I grew up wealthy so at least once a week I had a meltdown but the truth is the kids were really, really happy and well adjusted.
The really great thing about kids who grow up on a shoe string….they are very easy to impress. Great big malls, elaborate Christmas lights, concerts and nice shoes make them so happy.
Kids who grow up with money, in big cities, are rarely in awe…of anything. They’ve already seen better. But poor kids are pretty excited about everything, they’re amazed, the recognize the beauty, they marvel and smile.
My youngest son, Sandor, still says, “Oh my goodness” when we walk into the Hot Springs Mall at Christmas time. And our Mall is tiny, but Sandor who is nine, thinks its magical. (And yes, he really says “oh my goodness”, he also plays football so don’t make fun of him.) Imagine how he’ll react when he sees Rockefeller Center or Big Ben.
Maybe Jack and Dolly Parton are right. There is a noble magic to growing up almost poor. I just hope that sense of wonder and awe stay with my kids for the rest of their lives.