Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Being Poor -- My Take On the Subject

By now, you've had a chance to read (and hopefully digest) my earlier post on "What It's Like to Be Poor." 

I have strong feelings about this...probably because I grew up as a farmer's daughter in very modest circumstances.

My dad worked for a tractor equipment company owned by my uncle -- and farmed on the side. If you've had any farming experience, with the exception of the megafarms, you know that farmers tend to live on the tip-edge. If the weather cooperates, everything goes as planned, and the prices stay reasonable...then you'll make a profit for all that effort. It's usually not a big one.
     But if there's a drought, or your cattle get sick, or prices tank -- congratulations. You've just done all that hard work for nothing.

In spite of this, farmers farm because, like my dad, they love it. And I grew up loving fresh vegetables from the garden and clean, home-raised meat. The smell of fresh-cut hay is still one of my favorites, or the crisp snap of fall cornhusks as you walk through the rows. I raise chickens, make homemade soup, and garden partly because it's in my DNA now to do it.

There was money for the basics -- if we were careful -- and not much else. The price of my parents' farm was only $10,000, but they were not able to pay it off until I was almost through high school. We raised most of our food, and our clothes, with rare exceptions, were either made by my mom (an expert seamstress and tailor), or hand-me-downs from older cousins. If I wanted extras, I had to work for them, first by selling raspberries and sweet corn by the side of the road. Later on, I babysat and cleaned house for people, catered with my mom, and worked in a hardware store from age 15 through  part of college. (That job, along with scholarships and financial aid, was the major reason why I could even attend college in the first place.)
    My brother also worked, both on the farm and for his uncle at the Case dealership. And we both worked part-time throughout college, to help with the bills. (We both graduated, too.)

Were we poor? Most probably. I don't think Dad broke the $20,000 income barrier until after I went to college -- even then, he earned more working on his own when the dealership finally went bust. (That's a whole 'nother story.) We didn't go out to eat much -- a root beer at the drive-in on Thursday night, plus a birthday dinner, was about the extent of our lavishness. I didn't even eat burgers regularly until I was in high school -- and only then because I bought them myself. (And I got the cheapest kind.) A bicycle at Christmas was the highest splurge. But every bill was paid in full -- Mom and Dad insisted on it. They gave money to help others. Even saved for retirement. (Something my mom benefits from today.) And they did it without welfare or SNAP cards.

 "Take care of the family name," he would say. "Your reputation is the most important thing." And in that small Michigan town, it was. At my dad's funeral years later, total strangers came up to me, saying that he was the hardest-working, most honest man they'd ever met. At least one man didn't even realize I was his daughter...yet he told me that my dad had set an example for his own life.

That honor and integrity made us rich. It had nothing to do with money.

Does that mean I look down on receiving public aid? Not if you've tried every other means possible to support your family.... and you really do plan to get off as soon as possible. But to subsist on it for years, then watch your children and grandchildren do the same thing? To refuse to work basic jobs because you think they're beneath you? Refuse to save, because after all, someone else will take care of you...or waste your money on junk? Or take that aid so you can buy luxury items with your available cash, instead of (as my parents did) 'splurging' on schoolbooks, new jeans and tennis shoes for your kids.

Take care of your reputation, and pass it on to the people who are your family. 

Then, whether you're low-income or high, it won't matter how much you earn.

You'll be wealthy, indeed.

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