Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Within or Beyond?"

Beyond Their Means

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


  1. How nice it is to read that a family can work together and get along when it comes to sorting their parents things. I find a death can do things to a family that should never happen........:-) Hugs

  2. "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".......I still live by these teachings Glenn.

  3. You know Glenn, every time I read you I just wish I was sitting on your porch sippin' moonshine or sumpin' and listening to you tell it. Day to day operations of the bank statement! I live it. Sure enough I do.

  4. Such a good story, I enjoyed it very much..

  5. They sound like wonderful people, Glenn, with living standards that more of us should fashion our lives after. I look forward to hearing those future stories and meeting some other characters in your life!

  6. That's a wonderful account, Glen. Your parents sound like real quality people--now, that's something to pass on to you children...

  7. This was intriguing...looking forward to your explanation!

  8. Tears welled up in my eyes as you described the sorting of the souvenirs. It hasn't been that long since we went through that ritual. That generation learned grace under fire. I'm looking forward to getting to know them.

  9. Your parents were clearly generous and thoughtful people. This was a lovely story to read and learn from Glenn.

  10. I'm not sure many of us get this any more. We can think we do, but I'm not so sure we do. There's always more than enough, or at least, for most there are a lot of fall back plans. I only know of one who lives it. It isn't easy but it sure as hell is commendable. Me - poor enough- but rich enough too, and with a full fridge, I sure would like the opportunity to spoil him. I'm not even sure he'd be in for that though. There is real significance making it by the skin of the teeth.

    You and your siblings being kind and generous with each other gives me hope. Not for me and my own. No, no, no, but for people in general.

    Thanks for the wonderful read, Glenn.


  11. Really nice, Glenn. This made me cry. Mom is 91 now--and doesn't want to touch her savings for anything. "I might need it if there's an emergency!" She too, was a depression child. The idea of spending what we don't have is pervasive everywhere--from our young folks to the government. Keep us mindful of these things that are important, Glenn.

  12. Glen,
    I remember this the same as you...drawing the numbers and then looking at everyone's face before choosing...but best of all, I remember a dinner with my five siblings with the last of the money in the bank account...and knowing that somehow, as we laughed and laughed, that Dad and Mom were there with us.

  13. Having withdrawals...
    ...Just going back and reading some of these, now with a little more context...
    ...I smile...