Saturday, May 7, 2022

Growing up poor

I didn't realize, until I was an adult, that I'd grown up poor. I was raised in a household whose income fell well below the poverty line. My Daddy’s upbringing was in a home with an even lower income. He was the first of his siblings to graduate from high school and after that, he took night classes at a technical school to learn a skill. He was one of the hardest workers I've known. While most of the years he was the sole wage earner, my Mother was a stay-at-home wife and mother. When she could, she'd take in ironing or make clothes for women who were much better off than we were, but most of my growing up years, we lived on Daddy's meager income. 

Watching my mother and father worry about making ends was hard. No matter how hard Daddy worked, it never seemed to be enough to take care of my sister, brother, and I. I was determined I wasn't going to live that way forever, so when I was 12, I took my first babysitting job. I was determined to rise above such intense struggle to survive. That job only paid a dollar an hour and I was babysitting 7 children, but I didn't care. I was making my own money and it felt good. 

When I was 15, and still in high school, I wanted to get a real job. Back then, parents had to sign a work permit for children under the age of 16. I begged my mother to sign the permit so I could work and thankfully she did. The next problem was how to get to the interview I'd been lucky enough to schedule. 

Our cars were usually very old and in ill repair. Daddy did his best to fix them up and keep them running, but sometimes, we only had one working car and of course, he needed that to Atlanta to work. Luckily, the day I was to have my interview with a local department store, Mama's car was running and she agreed to take me. I put on my prettiest dress and my best game face. As I talked with the gentleman at W. T. Grant Company, I did my best to be posed and mature. Mr. Weaver had no idea how hard my knees were knocking as I listened during the interview. I prayed he couldn't hear them. I landed a job in the collections department at $1.25 an hour. I was ecstatic.  Working hard every day after school, I managed to get raise after raise until I topped out at their maximum $1.65 and hour. I worked there almost a year before becoming engaged. 

At 16, I got married. Young, stupid, and in love, or so I thought, my young husband and I did our best to make ends meet. He was the only wage earner while I worked at completing my education, but $80 a week didn't go very far. We lived in an apartment down the road from my parent's house. The apartment rent was $135 a month and took almost 2 paychecks to make. On top of that were utilities and groceries. We lived off of peanut butter or bologna sandwiches that first year. I washed clothes in the bathtub and hung them out on the balcony of our apartment to dry because we couldn't afford a washer and dryer and certainly didn't have spare change to use the on site laundomat. Growing up poor taught me to survive. 

When my husband got a new position with Georgia Power making a little more money, we moved to Covington, GA. We'd found a repossessed single wide trailer that came fully furnished. It had red and black shag carpet and black naugahyde furniture in the living room. We thought we were stepping up in the world! The trailer payment and the rent at the trailer park were well within our budget. We were doing okay until I got pregnant. 

Adding a new baby to the mix brought on even more challenges. There were extra expenses for diapers, bottles, formula, etc. We did the best we could but had to rely on family to help pick up the slack. Soon, tensions were high and our marriage on the rocks. After 3 years, we called it quits. I ended up moving back home, baby in tow and lived there for about a year until I could get on my feet and get my own apartment. 

My life took a lot of twists and turns. It always seemed I was taking two steps forward and three steps back. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to get ahead. I was determined I was not going to live paycheck to paycheck as my parents had done all their lives. 

So much has changed since those early days. I said goodbye to a second marriage and hello to third. My family grew in size from one little boy to one boy and three girls, all grown now and three of those children have blessed me with grandchildren.  

It's funny how growing up poor shaped me into who I am today. I don't take anything for granted. 

There were many lessons I learned from growing up without money - 

Here are a few of them.

1. Don't waste a thing. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. 

2. Respect the value of money. It doesn't grow on trees and if you can save a little, you'll start to see it grow.  

3. Money can't buy everything. It’s amazing how little it takes to survive if you learn to “make do” and improvise.

4. People are worth immeasurably more than things.

5. You don’t have to own something to love and enjoy it.

6. Memories are treasures. They don't take up space,  can't be stolen, don't have to be maintained, and never cause worry. 

6. Don't live above your means. Going into debt isn't worth the stress or hassle. 

7. If you maintain an old car properly, it will last a long time. Regular oil changes and checks cost less than a car payment. 

8. Working hard never hurt anyone. 

9. You're stronger than you think. 

10. You can't take it with you when you go. Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? 

My parents struggled because they had to. Back then, jobs were tough to come by and for those without college degrees, manual labor was about all that was available. Daddy took pride in what he did. He came home from work exhausted every day but got up each morning to do it all over again. He never asked for anything. As soon as he got paid, he handed his paycheck to Mama. She was responsible for paying the bills, buying the groceries, and taking care of our needs. She didn't always do a good job but did the best she could with what she had. 

I'm thankful I grew up poor. I wouldn't have learned many valuable lessons that I've carried into my life today if circumstances had been different. I'm glad I didn't know I was poor at the time I was living it. It would have been much harder to swallow back then. Today I can look back and be grateful. 

I've done my best to teach my children valuable life lessons without going into a lot of detail about my past. Hopefully they've learned and accepted those and will let them trickle down into their own families. 

Life is hard whether you're rich or poor. I consider myself lucky to have grown up the latter. 

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