Arx Hereticus

Welcome to the ramblings of a merry heretic, an ex-pat (Tex-pat?) American living in Maryland after having spent six years in Germany. Arx Hereticus is part travelogue, part cooking, part budo, part socio-political commentary and mostly just me BSing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On being poor

Just wanted to post a link to John Scalzi's powerful essay "Being Poor" ( ... it's a powerful read. I try to re-read it a couple times a year to remind myself.

I grew up very poor, broken home, crappy end of the country, no real future or possibilities ... but due to some fairly incredible sacrifices by those who loved me, I wasn't that aware of it until I got older.

Not that my folks were angels, they could be as mean and stupid as anyone's folks can, but there was love, too. They weren't very good at being parents, but they tried hard with what they had.

Mom had a problem with alcohol and all its assorted baggage for many years, Dad had a problem with being there. I survived it all and am doing pretty damn good right now.

Growing up, I didn't think of myself as poor until - probably junior high school, and then it hit hard. Before, there was always food, always something clean to wear, always family and friends of the family around giving mom a boost.

I realized that my stuff was from the dime store or hand-me-downs, that we used food stamps, that Mom stretched our food budget in some amazing ways anyway, that my folks were 'low-class' (whatever the hell that means), that I'd never be popular, get a car for birthday or Christmas, never go to college, and that I was, indeed, poor white trash.

And increasingly, as I grew into my teens, the fact was hammered in. The rift between me and people lik eme and the rest of the world seemed to gape wider and wider. Some of it was teen alienation, angst and rebellion, sure, but I was acutely aware of the discrepency between me and my 'peers'.

As I got older, and Mom aged, her folks and then her sibs started dying off, and things got tougher.

She had a severe spinal injury about my freshman year, spent a year in hospitals, rehab or at home in bed being cared for by myself and my married older sister. Sis did what she could, but I was Mom's primary caretaker for a good while.

I learned to cook, to wash and iron clothes and clean house.

I never learned much about money and the intelligent handling thereof, because we hadn't any. It took her a year or so to get her disability straightened out, and we were pretty much SOL in the cash department for what seemed to be years, but was at least several months.

We dealt, due to help from family, kindness of friends, sometimes dumb luck. She got back on her feet, but never back to work. I spent the rest of high school on the wrong side of the tracks, and Mom mostly stayed one step ahead of the landlord, bill collector and bottle.

Looking back, I can see a lot of ways things could have been netter, but they could have been lots worse, too.

I left that world, pretty much just walked away as soon as I was of age. Made regular as possible visits to meet familial duty, but I was growing fast, learning fast and really, turning into someone else. Pretty much succeeded, in some very unexpected ways ... I wa snever part of that world again, and never will be. Not the poverty, I've been almost desperately underemployed a couple of times since, but always climbed out of the hole.

And the idea that that hole still exists, and could open up again is never far from my consciousness.

I do remember, and I read things like Scalzi's "Being Poor" and try hard to keep perspective. I work hard, earn good money, have had some real breaks ... but I also try to remember to pay it forward, if I may resurrect an old cliche.

Not always good at it, and the road to hell is well-oaved, but I do try. I give when I can, of time and money and knowledge. And I encourage and offer perspective and remind others that you don't have to continue the cycle that is poverty in America.

(Addendum: And I know very, very well, that even at the poorest of my youth or later years, I was still so much richer than many in this world will ever know or even dream of ...)


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