I stumbled upon this blog post quite a few months back, and even though it was written in 2005, so much of it resonated with me. I could relate to a lot of what the guy posted, and the feeling he was trying to convey because I grew up poor. Oh, there were periods of feast, when Dad had a steady job and alcoholism hadn’t taken over his life. But for the most part, it was famine.
Log and I have a lot of discussions about financial structure. His family had experienced lean times when they first immigrated to the U.S. Leaving a comfortable life and starting completely from scratch in a different country. Gradually, they pulled themselves up, and now they are all doing well. To hear Log tell his story, you can’t help but have a deep respect for him. It truly is the American Dream made reality. However, there is a difference in the mindset of those who go from financial stability to poor and those who have just always been poor.
There are also some quirks that come with that background.
-Adding bread or rice to food to make it go further. Log is still trying to understand the attraction of casseroles.
-Shaking the jug of milk when you pull it out of the fridge out of sheer habit. This stems from a childhood of powdered milk, that had to be shaken before pouring.
-Reminiscing about the greatness of commodities. Especially the government cheese.
-Automatically wracking my brain to think of who I know that can fix things that break around the house, or who knows about automotive repair. Log has to remind me that we can pay a professional to fix it. This was unheard of growing up.
-Poor people don’t retire. They work until the day they die, or plan to. I have to keep reminding myself that this will not be my fate as I see the retirement plan deductions from my paycheck.
-Reticence to throw out things that still have use, even if I don’t use them. Growing up poor, you throw nothing out. Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Policy.
-Excitement at getting new pillows, but still feeling remorse at throwing out the old ones.
-Still learning how money works.
-Not being excited about Christmas.
I have a college degree, and a really good job that pays well. I still find myself looking in the rear view mirror to that life, terrified. I look at family members who haven’t made it out of that rabbit hole, and I feel guilty. Survivor’s Guilt doesn’t always have to do with death.
There’s a lot of poverty in this country, and yet we never talk about it. Oh sure, it’s referenced by politicians who use it as a talking point. Or masses of asses who assume that poor people are lazy and simply exist to be a drain on resources. But those who would mock poverty-stricken really have no clue what it’s like. They view poor people as a demographic that deserves every bad thing that happens to them. The poor should be punished by making them even more poor, and then leering at them because if they wanted better for themselves, they could just pull themselves out of it. When they can’t, they obviously didn’t want to bad enough.
I’ve been thinking a lot about poverty in this country. About my experiences with it, and reading those of others. Of the accounts I have read, there’s almost always ignorant assholes that has to try to call bullshit, offering up their judgement (often without knowing all the facts), and telling that person what they should have done differently. They don’t believe it. They don’t want to know that people in our country are allowed to live in conditions you expect to hear about in a “third world” country. They want to believe that getting out of poverty is as easy as just saying, “I don’t want to be poor” because they don’t understand that the system is designed in such a manner that it is almost impossible to get out of the snake pit by merely “pulling up your bootstraps”. Cut those benefits because it will make people get off their asses and work more…at the shitty job that pays you less than a livable wage.
It pisses me off. Because all the hate and vitriol directed at the poor, was once directed at me. I know it well because I was schooled when I was a kid. When you are poor, the world doesn’t care about you because they think there’s nothing you could contribute to society, but rather be a drain upon it. If you get sick and die, one less mouth to pay your hard-earned money into feeding. Occasionally, for people who were fortunate enough like me, there are people out there who do care. Small pockets of compassion, that offer something much more than money.
They teach you to fish for life, rather than just giving you one for the day.
Let’s go fishing. I’ll bring the Shiny Hook.