Wednesday, February 17, 2010
"Within or Beyond?"
I have been doing it all wrong. I have been trying to live within my “means”. I thought I was following the habits that I had been taught growing up. You have met him in “Paw Paw Sacks”, “Lady McQuay”, “Put Up’t Tomatoes”, and perhaps others. He and my mother had been living “beyond their means” up until their passing and I didn’t know it. After he passed away, I took over the day to day operations of the bank statement, you get the picture. My mother lived and stayed on another three years. Not me, nor any other writer, is clever enough with words to convey how determined they were. An instant “blended family”, with the added opportunity of being share cropper poor, was grounds for an interesting lifestyle. This is not about how they negotiated though the financial and sociological rapids of raising three girls and a boy, all public school ages, but a synopsis of the outcome. Future stories will unravel the plot and introduce you to the characters.
Both of them had grown up through the Great Depression and had experienced firsthand true hardship. As youngsters, we were glad that we didn’t have to experience the same situations as we heard during the front porch conversations after supper. We knew that there were things that we were not accustomed to but seldom did I feel poor. Somehow we made it over the hurdles that presented themselves, from time to time. Credit was a necessity but it was taken very seriously. Credit was something to be afraid of and kept in check. Credit was allotted within a frame of mind of how you were going to pay it back. Credit was used for necessities. There was never a thought of buying something on credit that you didn’t need.
“Let me ask you something”. My sister that is my age, except she is four months OLDER than me asked, no demanded. We were sitting in the porch swing that actually hung from a frame in the back yard of their house.
“What?” All the time I wondered what kind of butt chewing I was in for. (Not really)
“Does Daddy always try to give you money?”
It had been almost a half century since the “blend” had been concocted. “You too?" He asks me that every time we go eat fried fish.” My thoughts, for some reason, jumped back to when school pictures were ready and there was such an effort to make sure we all had enough money for pictures to pass around to kin folks and friends at school.
“I don’t want or need to take from them, besides If I took it all I would still probably be…...” well my daughters might read this so you will have to fill in the blank with anything you want. The cackle echoed off the green asbestos style siding on the house. I laughed as well.
“Hell, take twenty bucks from time to time. It will make them feel better somehow.” I guess I was feeling a little guilty. He had bought lunch earlier that day.
Such a short time later, it seemed, my three sisters and I were sitting in their kitchen getting ready to draw numbers out of a hat to see who would go first. A lifetime of trinkets were sorted and place around in full view. Jewelry, watches, bibles, the list is too long to mention. One sister was designated to select for the older brother who was unable to be there. We started. We took turns selecting items that each of us wanted as a keepsake. More attention was given to watching the others as we touched each item. At the slightest indication that the chosen piece was important to someone else, it was left or offered to the other person. These were things they were given over the many years. Seldom did they indulge for themselves. We completed our task.
“Glenn you have to do the rest.” No questions or directions were given.
Still sitting in my pickup, looking across the deserted campground, listening to the Angelina River water ripple toward the Gulf of Mexico, there was the fire pit where fifty years ago, I watched my first pot of River Coffee being “cooked”. I realized just how far beyond their means they had lived. My goal was to take care of the rest of the loose ends. The final services had been covered. The hospital and doctors and been compensated. The house had long been paid for. The three automobiles were paid for. No outstanding obligation was left standing. The thirteen grandchildren and umpteen (I have tried to count three times and failed) great grandchildren had a little surprise coming, and still had six one hundred dollar bills with which I intended to “buy supper” for the girls. (And have).
This school custodian and restaurant waitress set for us a standard that I hope that I can someday reach. At first glance you might say they lived within their means. Trust me or ask anyone who knew them. They lived waaayyyy beyond their means.
Painting: A River Landscape, Peder Mork Monstead 1897