And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
My father was always the one who said, “I’m a day late and a dollar short,” but, he always had a dollar in his pocket. He’d always slip a dollar in my hand at church and let me have the joy of putting it in the offering plate. My father always got a kick out of how happy this made me.
My father always gave me an allowance: a penny, a nickel, a dime, and a quarter. In 1988, I bought a bracelet at Penn Square Mall featuring those four coins. I bought it and my dad replaced the coins with those minted in 1967, the year I was born.
I grew up poor. Not as poor as some in America, but poorer than most. When I was in sixth grade, my father made $37.50 a week pastoring a church in Arkansas. He supplemented his income as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s department. I always had Christmas and birthday presents. I had expectations for Barbie stuff and they were never disappointed. We were poor, but my mom planned ahead. She’d order me one really cool thing from Alden’s catalog and take an entire year to pay for it. One year I got the coolest Tuesday Taylor ski/beach house. It completely rocked, along with Tuesday. You twisted her scalp around to make her blond or brunette. The grayer I go the more I have in common with that doll.
I was 19 before I ate my first steak. It made me sick, and to this day, I do not like steak. I don’t buy it. I don’t eat it. I had a root beer float in 1974, and I craved another for at least 10 years before the craving was satisfied. Food was a big issue growing up. Not having enough money to buy really good stuff, we ate what most poor people eat: white and tan stuff. Like macaroni and entire loaves of bread. We’d take out the pieces, shake them in the sugar bowl and eat them like cookies — all day long.
We had a lot of car issues growing up. They never ran. They were complete bombs. They embarrassed me. They built my character. Today, I loathe the thought of a new car. The payment, the stress over dings. And, then, there’s Tony Campolo. Don’t even get me started. I’m more of a 1994 Toyota Camry kind-of-girl. It whips around corners and gets up and GOES. It costs me next to nothing, and every time someone runs into me (four and counting), I just take it over to DiVasquez in the uber-blue building on the other side of the Western Avenue bridge and he fixes me up. He gives me a discount because I’m such a regular.
A few of the houses I lived in growing up were pretty bad. Some were alright. I moved around a lot, so I got to reinvent myself all the time. I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun that was.
So, I grew up poor. It had its impact. I am such a classic Gen Xer in every way but this. When I graduated from college and didn’t immediately find a “good job” it didn’t surprise me. I never expected my degree to take me anywhere even though my poetry professor, Vivian Stewart, was convinced I’d win a Pulitzer one day. At 41, I continue to disappoint her. I never expected to get a job doing anything other than what I did in high school: work in the Men’s department at T G & Y organizing Ocean Pacific T-shirts day in and day out and sniffing Canoe cologne. Nobody was more surprised than me when I landed a job in military public affairs and my career took off.
So, I Escaped Poverty
So, I escaped poverty, as did all my siblings. While we had it so much easier than some, it was still pretty bad at times. I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t change it. Most of the time, I laugh about it. It’s just part of who I am, and I don’t make any apologies for it. Nobody died, and I learned early on in reading all the little missionary books at church that there were people all over the world who really lived in poverty – with open sewers running through their streets and no access to clean drinking water. They slept in mosquito nets and lived in grass huts. Eventually, I traveled to the mission field. I was 19 years old and spent part of a summer in Belize. This is when I learned the definition of poverty changes depending on what continent you’re living on. It changed my perspective.
I didn’t live in a dollhouse, but I didn’t live on the sidewalk in Bangkok either. I decided in 1988 that I would never own an electric can opener. I did have one for a while, but when it broke in 1997, I never replaced it. It’s just unnecessary. Actually, I find many things unnecessary – like mammoth flat-screen TVs, $300 pursues, and stainless steel appliances. What’s wrong with harvest gold? lol.
I suppose I can be just as superficial as the next person. I like a nice landscaped yard and the older I get the more I worry about losing touch with my past and what it means to be poor in America. I routinely visit Oklahoma City’s Mulligan Flats because I never ever want to forget that at one time that was me. And, every time I see someone driving a bombed-out car full of kids, I just take a BIG-DEEP-BREATH and say a prayer.
Vow of Poverty
My parents were brilliant people. They were so incredibly smart – smarter than I’ll ever be. I don’t think they intended to take a vow of poverty, but that’s the way it ended up. In hindsight, my parents might have changed it. But, when they make it over to the other side and the unknown becomes known I don’t think they’ll have any regrets.
So, we didn’t take vacations, so I found my adventures on my own. They were in my father’s study, pouring over books that were sophisticated and complicated. He never scooted me off or interrupted my journey. This was my liberal, though sheltered childhood: books. And, I have a feeling he insisted on college because he thought it would lead me to a good job as much as he thought it would tame me in comparison to the wandering, undisciplined poet I might have become had I not gone. So, maybe the camel has painlessly slipped through the eye of the needle. It’s possible. I was pressed through by my father’s wisdom and my mother’s disappointments. One should be so lucky in their poverty as was I.