I was the child of That man and That woman, in the great random of When and Where, raised up in Those years, under Those circumstances, and taught a Particular way of looking at the world…
Occasionally I was grateful, mostly I took the good for granted, and sometimes, I’d look elsewhere, with envy eyes.
When I was a kid, the most famous American family was the Kennedys. I imagined they drank tea, at tea time, off a silver platter, pinkie finger held just so… They went to fancy schools, had money, married into more, became senators and presidents. I’d imagine the Kennedy boys, beautiful summer day, sailing a yacht, accompanied by some debutante auditioning for Mrs. duty…
…while here I was, a herbicide gimme cap on my head, farmer tan, dust in my face, by my lonesome, driving a tractor. I had all summer to think, Why-not-me…
There were other kids to compare with, the car dealer kids, the lawyer, doctor and dentist kids, the Daddy-has-his-own-business kids.
Time passes. Life happens. Here I am, these eyes.
Haves, Have Nots and Those Somewhere Between
Conversation with a customer, she says, “American education is like rodeo: if the parents have $50,000, or $100,000, they can buy the kid a great horse, and all the kid has to do is stay in the saddle and they’ll win all the trophies.”
Unsaid, but implied… whether horses or Harvard, you can cheat with money. You can skip steps, go to the front of the line, you can buy advantage.
It’s everywhere. A kid playing city league recreation baseball can’t compete with the kids whose parents buy them $500 baseball bats and sign them up for traveling tournament ball. And those parents feel poor, knowing they don’t have the coin or connections to get their kids into the elite private schools where the kids of the One Percent’ers make childhood bonds, are funneled straight to the Ivy League universities, and Wall Street, here we come…
…just the other day, some divorce proceedings of the ultra wealthy in the news, the wife scoffs at being able to raise her kids in the manner they are accustomed to…on only $100,000 a month……
And Then There’s The Other Way
My great grandfather borrowed a wagon and a team of mules, moved his family and worldly possessions from Mamou to Soileau, a little community on the edge of the Louisiana prairie. He started with twenty acres, bought for the price of “one fat hog.”
There’s a picture of he and his family, the first photograph in the history of the gene pool. They pulled two ladder back chairs out of the house, put them in the front yard, and there sat man and there sat woman, and around them, their young children, including my grandfather, the boys hat in hand, for such an occasion, chickens pecking in the background, O, lemme tell you, it’s ate up with humble…
I got named for this man. He threw a strong shadow. There he is, in his man prime, five kids, more on the way, but I can tell, just looking at him, this dude can work.
He worked, he accumulated, he amounted to something. Died before my time, but I knew his kids and grandkids, and they were among the finest people I’ve ever known, which as the saying goes, ye shall know a tree by its fruit.
Whatever he ended up with, it began from a plain start. He did the same to his own kids. They’d inherit modestly when he died, but as for paving their way… no sir… each was supposed to find their own way. He might loan the kid a shovel, but wouldn’t buy them one.
The same for my father’s generation. When my father wanted to go to seminary to become a preacher he had to gather the how-to-get-there, the how-to-pay-for-it, it was all on him. He raised red wiggler fishing worms, he stocked produce at a grocery store. He told me he wanted to do it differently with his kids. Make it easier. Give them a boost.
Something got lost in that step. I had it too easy, compared to the earlier generations. It was good intentions, but for me, it wasn’t in my best interest. By self sabotage and circumstance I found a way to start all over again at the bottom. Something inside me yearned for the test of the lean. Somewhere, somewhere, is some little piece of paper, me a grown man, counting coins saved, thought-about-a-coke-and-decided-against-it, and there was fifty cents, that I put in a little envelope.
It was a precious stage, more complex than I can account for, felt like I was finishing my own raising, going back to patch the foundation for things that I’d missed by having it easier. I was both self disciplined and self reliant, doing it like people have always done it, minding the pennies, making do, telling yourself no, manual labor, not by the stoop-to, but by the want-to, forgoing the leaps and bounds to find meaning in the crawl, finding natural satisfaction in being bone tired, and ready to do it again tomorrow.
A Few Generations Off The Farm
Someone who employs young people, whispered to me, “You wouldn’t believe how many of these kids don’t know how to operate a vacuum cleaner.” Do they do no chores anymore? The home is the beginning of the whole foundation, one of them being the necessity of work, and the ethic thereof.
Generations have always complained about each other, but never have I heard such unanimous – and ominous – concern about young people. In the natural urge for each generation to put the next generation upon their shoulders, is the natural loss of doing so, that their feet will never touch the foundation that their elders are standing upon.
Foundation is its own thing, and not something to cheat on. It has to be this by this by this, level, dried and cured, and upon it we build…our lives.
This far into life, I just don’t trust the easy way. If I have any confidence, it’s not in the cash in my wallet, it’s in memories of me in my less ‘n least, doing dirty work, working for free, or next to it, not a lick of status, somebody with a body made for work, and working…
I trust my hard-tested stuff. If the lights went out and the world went primitive, I’d have a foundation to stand upon, confidence in who I am, and what is proven within me.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we accept that we all start at different places, unified under one standard, To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required.
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