My family would never have been confused with the Bradys. Or the Huxtables. Well, mostly because there were only five of us and we weren't black. But still...
No, we were sort of a middle-to-mostly-lower-middle class clan of five that lived in a secluded house in a small town with a mostly stay-at-home Mom & blue-collar Dad.
I had the ramshackle, carefree upbringing that a lot of rural kids did- loads of freedom, lots of space, chores galore, always playing outside, biking forever to see friends. By all accounts, it was great. Semi-idyllic. Rockwell-ish, at times.
But it was the 80's, there was a recession on, and we struggled financially. Often.
It seemed to ebb and flow. Some months we would be going out to eat at Ground Round or Hardees and all was right in the world, and some months we would be digging deep into the freezer and root cellar to see what dinner would be. We were sometimes fine, and we were sometimes poor.
It was the poor part that got to me.
Most people didn't really ever know this about us, how we struggled, how when my Mom died later on we found out that there hadn't been insurance on the house for years, how sometimes we had to have powdered milk with our generic cereal in the morning. Most people thought we were on par with the Joneses, or in the case of my town, the Johnsons and Juntinens.
By much of my extended family's standards we were affluent- sort of a less hee-haw version of the Beverly Hillbillies. Several of my less employmentally-inclined Uncles thought we were "rich" because we had a microwave in 1982 (junk from an auction), a four-wheeler (much like many slightly WT folks, money gained is often money ill-spent), okay clothes (mostly hand-me-down and garage sale), and a big house (built by Dad & his friends- no expensive "professionals" or "permits" involved).
Were we poor all the time? No.
Would we have been classified as "poor" on a census?
Maybe, maybe not.
We always had food, we always had a roof over our heads, heat, etc...
Just occasionally I was reminded that we weren't like a lot of the kids I knew, and I worked tirelessly to hide this fact.
It was exhausting.
I wanted the same clothes: the designer jeans, the countless outfits to choose from, the Nikes, the Kangaroos, the non hand-me-down winter coat. I grew weary of trying to come up with different outfit combinations so that they would look "new".
I wanted a house that wasn't in a constant state of being unfinished, my own teen phone line, new carpeting that wasn't from the "good as new" section of the want ads, running water that wasn't constantly running low or out due to the advanced age of our well.
We were pioneers in the "if it's yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down" movement. As an adult in a constantly resource-challenged world, this is a noble mantra. As a kid it's a social death sentence.
I tried hard throughout my adolescence to keep it up- I'd sometimes ask my Mom to drop me off at the wrong house when I was going to someone's for the first time so that they didn't see our crappy car. Once my cliquey "friends" started to make fun of my house at sleepovers, I stopped having them over. I begged for designer clothes for birthdays and Christmas, knowing it was a financial stretch for my parents, but also knowing that they had a hard time saying no.
They wanted us to have more, they just didn't know how.
Then, I got older. And wiser.
Fourteen and fifteen were very liberating years for me. I started earning my own money via babysitting and mowing lawns. I stopped caring so much what my schoolmates thought of me.
I wanted to be different. I wanted to be unique. I didn't want the same off-the-rack jeans that everyone else had. I started buying Vintage clothes and shopping at Goodwill by choice. I knew how to sew, so I altered old clothes a la "Pretty in Pink" to customize them.
I realized that being the same wasn't necessary. It wasn't even interesting.
And I looked cool. Way cooler than the kids who looked the same, the ones who strove to meet somewhere in the middle.
Being poor wasn't a crime. It wasn't even necessarily a bad thing. It made me the ass-kicker I am today.
I can make my own fun, I can sew, I can cook (!), I learned to take nothing for granted, to appreciate simple things like laying in the grass and giggling about Duran Duran with my girlfriends, and to appreciate what you have, rather than what you don't.
It makes you waste nothing. Everything has value. Time, energy, food, clothes, stuff, people.
I think money, while nice and useful, doesn't make things easier, really. It definitely simplifies things, but then where's the challenge?
I never want to be complacent or indifferent to the struggle.
The struggle is what makes everything worth having, well... worth having.