One of my favorite songs is by Journey….”don’t stop believing, hold onto that feeling…..”
My family was white trash poor. I’ve heard people talk about how poor they were growing up. Saying that they couldn’t afford to go to the movies but once a month or only got a couple of presents for Christmas. Hell, that’s not poor. Poor is when you have never seen a movie until you are 11 years old and your older sister’s fiance’ tries to impress her by taking her along with her brothers and sisters to an actual movie theater. Yeah, it was a drive-in and it was $5.00 a carload night but it was a real treat. He, also, brought along a carton of Double Cola. Do any of you remember Double Cola? It was not the best tasting soda as I found out when I got older and could actually buy soft drinks with my own money. But, you got more for your buck because the bottles were bigger.
We sure did like him and we were all happy when they got married. Unfortunately, it ended in divorce but I love that guy even now. He was and is still a “good ol’ boy”.
Poor is receiving one toy for Christmas and it was from a church mission distribution center. People donated clothing, toys, household items, etc. My Mom and Dad volunteered there one year in order to get us some Christmas presents. Volunteering wasn’t necessary but they wanted to feel like they had earned the stuff. Too bad that most people with their hands out these days just want to get something for nothing and have no work ethic.
That Christmas, I got a doll and I thought she was the most beautiful thing ever. She was a porcelain doll, not one that you actually played with. She had on a flowery dress and she had a hair net. The hair net covered brown hair that had, to most people, obviously seen better days and someone had tried to comb it back into place before donating it. But, to me it was lovely,especially since I had never had a doll with any hair before this one. I remember that one detail plainly because my older brother made fun of it and made me cry. He said that it looked like she had poop in her hair. He hurt my feelings something terrible and I ran and hid in the well house around back of our house. Me and my doll. We laid behind the pump until my Mom found me and gathered me in her arms. She kissed me and talked to me softly. She told me that my doll was special and that I should ignore my brother because boys don’t understand anything about dolls. Then, my brother came in and hugged me and told me that he was sorry. Isn’t it funny how some memories are so clear and others are vague, no matter how hard you strive to remember them?
About 7 years after that, I was getting ready to start high school. Junior high was behind me and I had gotten thru it with very good grades and the reputation of being the “funny one” of my jr high clique. I had a 4.0 grade level. And, I was active on the school newspaper. This was due to the fact that when I tried out for cheerleader, the teacher/coach had taken one look at me, a fat girl with a patched-up, faded wardrobe and told me that I should join the newspaper team since I had writing talent. I wasn’t stupid and knew that what she wanted to say was, “Honey, you are not cheerleader material. You’re better suited behind the scenes. In other words, you’ve got a radio face so don’t ever try out for television.” And, although, that hurt deeply at the time, I’m grateful to her now. I enjoy writing and being behind the scene in a lot of cases. But, not all of the time….NO!….I have a need to be in on the action and have a knack for getting myself into situations where I am the center of attention. But, at least, I’m not doing those damn junior high cheers….Rah Rah Ree Hit Him In The Knee Rah Rah Ras Hit Him In The Ass!
By this time, my Dad was old enough to draw Social Security and he had finally been awarded a Veteran’s check for being shot 5 times in the war. Just a note: My Dad was in his late fifties when I was born. I never knew what it was like to have a physically fit Dad, one that was young enough to play sports with us. Although, he did try. I can remember rolling a big rubber ball back and forth with him. That’s about the limit of physical activity that I can recall doing with my Dad. Oh, and he did take me for walks sometimes. We walked very slowly as he was using a walking cane by then.
OK, I digressed again. Back to entering high school. With our windfall (hahahaha) of money, my Mom was able to buy each of us one new outfit for school…..PLUS SHOES! I was so excited to wear a brand new outfit for my first day at high school. But, then what? I knew I’d have to continue to wear my big sister’s hand-me-downs and trade clothes with my little sister in order to have a different outfit for other days. My big sister, who was by this time a married woman, was very generous and kind to us. Her husband was a coal miner and made fairly good money by local standards. The coal company that employed him actually owned one of those “company stores” that you may have heard about or seen in a movie like “Matewan”. The store let the miners have accounts where they could charge stuff between paydays and pay it off when they got their paycheck. Unfortunately, my sister had no financial teachings and apparently gave no thought to the idea that you should never charge more than you could pay back. She frequently took us to the store with her where she treated us to soda, candy, and other items that we were denied growing up. I think this was where her marriage started falling apart. Her husband would come home in a screaming, angry rampage after going to the store and finding out how much he owed due to her purchases. She, also, bought clothes and I was thankful when she handed them down to me. However, trading with my little sister was almost comical. I was short and fat and she was taller and very slender. So, although, she could fit in my clothes, she would look silly because they hung off of her. On the other hand, when I tried to wear hers, it was like trying to fit big Polish sausage into a hotdog wiener casing. So, it ended up that she would wear my clothes but I could not wear hers. And, she was a slob! I would be so upset when I would go to put on one of my few shirts only to find that she had worn it the day before and gotten ketchup or something on it. I think of this time in my life as The Wardrobe Nightmare Period.
My Mother was always trying to come up with a way to fix the clothing problem. She even tried to learn how to sew but she never could master that talent. On the other hand, I learned to sew in Home Economics in the ninth grade and loved it. I made a few things in that class that I actually wore for several years. I remember making this long, sleeveless lined vest that I thought was the coolest thing ever. It was blue denim colored on the outside and bright stripes on the inside. Looking back now, I shudder thinking about how hideous that thing really was. At the time, long vest, fringed jeans, and faded-look stuff was in. So, I was halfway stylish since most of my clothes were actually faded and my pants were raveling at the hem due to being washed so much.
One day my Mom had gone to visit her sister. Her sister was pretty well off because her husband owned several businesses that were doing really well. My aunt had one daughter and she was lavished constantly with clothes, shoes, and whatever else she wanted. She was in the same grade as I was but she had gone to a private Catholic school thru grade school and junior high. So, high school was the first time that we were in the same school. We were not friends. We did not run in the same circles, mine being the hippie type crowd and hers being the “preps”. We would sorta nod at each other in the hallway but she ignored me all together when her friends were around. I don’t think any of them even knew we were cousins. I didn’t really care since I didn’t go around announcing it either. We were so totally different. While she might be out trying to find a shoe store that would dye her new shoes to match her gown for a school formal dance, I would be out listening to Led Zepplin and trying cigarettes, beer, or even pot for the first time. I’m pretty sure that I had a lot more fun than she did.
Back to the original story…yes, I know, I am “rabbit holing” (as one of my readers called it) again….
As I said, one day my Mom went to visit her sister. She didn’t get to go see her very much. My Mom couldn’t drive and had to rely on my Dad to take her every where (up until I got my license at 16 whereupon I became the official family chauffeur). When I got home from school, she was excited about a big black trash bag of something that she wanted to show me. It turned out to be my cousin’s clothing that she had tired of or could no longer wear. I need to mention that by this time, I had lost a lot of weight. I am not sure if it was due to natural body changes or the somewhat wild life that I was leading. Whatever it was, I was a normal size. My cousin was, also, a normal size but then she always had been. So, my aunt had sent me a big bunch of clothes. I was not happy at first. Afterall, this was my cousin’s clothes and we were going to the same school. I told my Mom that I didn’t want to be seen in her hand-me-downs because kids would make fun of me. She told me that my aunt had promised her that she would make sure that my cousin didn’t say anything at school about me wearing her old clothes. And, the clothes were nice, coming from some of the best and most expensive stores around. They were not my style but they were the nicest clothing that I had ever had. So, reinforced by the promise that my cousin wouldn’t say anything, I decided to wear them to school. There were enough to wear a new outfit for around ten straight days! The first couple of days, I felt like a million dollars! None of the clothes had anything at all wrong with them. All my friends thought that I had bought new clothes and I didn’t tell them any difference. For once, I didn’t feel like that poor, white trash girl. I felt like I was fitting in with all the other girls.
Should have known better. My gut told me so and my gut is almost always right. By the end of the first week of my new wardrobe, I noticed some girls whispering around me. The girls were friends of my cousins. Uh oh. I felt sick to my stomach. After school that day, I told my Mom that I thought that my cousin had told her friends that I was wearing her used clothes. My Mom called my aunt, who in turn ask her daughter about it. She denied telling anyone at school about me wearing her give-aways. Notice that “at school” is written in italics. It turns out that the little bitch used a technicality to humiliate me. She didn’t tell any of her friends at school. She told them out of school….when they were at her home or one of their snotty I’m-Better-Than-You social gatherings.
I wanted to beat the shit out of her. And, I could have. I was a tough, white-trash girl and she was a spoiled, over-protected rich bitch. I knew that I could smack her down to the floor and then kick her in her perfectly coiffed hair until she cried. But, I didn’t. Instead, I just quit wearing the clothes. And, I promised myself that one day would come when I could buy all the clothes, shoes, and whatever that I needed. And, they would ALL BE NEW and never, ever worn by someone else first. And, I believed this with all my heart. This embarrassing experience just gave me more determination and resolve to move ahead and not look back. And, I did. I never thought about this again for years until I started having memories pop up out of nowhere recently. I’m not gonna try to stick those memories back in the shelf corners in my brain anymore. I’m going to write about them as I have in a few posts previous to this one. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed any longer. I write these memories with 2 intentions. One is to record my history for my daughters….who have never and will never (as long as I am alive) have to be embarrassed or humiliated by circumstances beyond their control. The second reason is….just in case you happen to read this….I want you to know that being poor or different should not be embarrassing.
……and don’t stop believing. I didn’t. Although, I will never be named on Forbes richest women list, now I can afford shoes, clothes, etc. all the time when I need it. And, most of the time when I just want it.
Even though some memories of being poor are painful, I can honestly say that I am glad that I grew up being poor white trash. I learned a lot from my childhood. I’ve learned that you can do without when you have to and you don’t die from it or anything. I’ve learned to appreciate everything that I have. I’ve learned that when I give something to someone, I don’t have to tell anybody else. Just knowing that I gave and helped is enough for me. I have no desire to ever humiliate or embarrass another person ever.
Yes, my cousin was a mean, spiteful little bitch. But, I thank her because that’s when I first started believing that things could get better. And, I will never stop believing…..