It's not about the house.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jeeves, You’ve Done It Again!

We were poor when I was little. Poor, poor. Well, not poor, poor, poor. Not eatin’-dirt poor. But welfare-cheese and hot-dog chowder poor. Plastic money and free lunch poor. You know, just good-old, 1970s-America kind of poor.

Not for lack of trying, you understand. It was just (ahem) recession-time. Things were tough all over. Eventually, though, my folks hauled their freakin’ bootstraps up over their ears and sent us all to private school, and private college – both with a little help, but still. All those loans are paid back now, and they even own a second home – in Maine, no less, where Presidents vacation!

I didn’t mind being poor – hell, I didn’t even know we were, most of the time. I lined up in the free-lunch line, across the room from kids with money in their pockets, and didn’t realize how humiliating that could be until two dozen years had gone by and I’d turned it into a punch line. I was telling the story (basically: I tried to sneak an extra hot buttered roll by shoving it in my pocket – I don’t know how they ever caught me), and when I got to the part about them separating us according to how much we paid, somebody (okay, it was my mother) gasped and said “How awful!”

And I thought “What?”

I still, honestly, don’t remember it being any source of shame. Maybe everybody else did, I don’t know. I’ve always been a little off on my emotional reactions. Like, um, did you silently beg to be lied to by the government about the plane that hit the Pentagon on that September morning? Or were you pissed off at Bill Clinton not for the Lewinsky scandal, or for lying about it, but for finally caving in and fessing up?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Anyway…

We were poor, and I’m proud of it. We were raised in a very Norman Rockwell manner because of our economic situation, and I thought it was great fun. Victory gardens and chicken coops, berry-picking expeditions and the jam that they produced, toys Dad made for us on his workbench from old scraps of 2x4, wood stoves and homemade maple syrup sugaring down on them. These may have all been economical measures our folks took to survive, but would anyone in their right mind turn their nose up at any of those things?

Yeah, I didn’t think so!

So the point I’m (slowly) driving at is that I came out of it unscathed. Except for a lingering tendency to pretend money just plain old does not exist (which I’ve more or less gotten a handle on, thank you very much), I figure I made it to adulthood with no tell-tale signs of my so-called deprived youth.

Then, I was under the kitchen cabinet yesterday, and I saw this:

Okay, so, um, I have a sponge thing.

See, when we were little, and poor, and every penny counted, we didn’t always have new everything. Shoes, yes. Pencils, yes. Underwear, of course. But sponges? Not so much.

I don’t know how much a sponge used to cost back in the day, but however many pennies it amounted to, there was a better way to spend them. So we’d use each sponge for months until it was a thin, foul memory of the bright-colored cellulose it used to be. And we didn’t even have a dishwasher back then to run the old ones through. I remember when we got the dishwasher. Oh, that was a happy day! It was hand-me-down, just like the one Johnny and I have now (because we are, without meaning to, re-enacting that economy-inspired life).

Sponges weren’t the only things we'd use to death back then. We recycled milk cartons a thousand different ways, decades before it was considered the right and holy thing to do. Mom bought Tupperware lunchboxes as an “investment,” to save money in the long run on sandwich bags. And hell, she could get about a dozen meals out of a decent chicken.

But that chicken soup was yummy, and those sponges were gross.

So I (and, ahem, I'm not the only one) have been left with a bit of an obsession. Every single time I’m at the grocery store, I manage to convince myself we might be running out of sponges, and that I'd better pick up a pack just to be sure. And then – oh, what the hell – lets make it two. Before I know it, I’m clearing out shelf space in the attic to store all the thousands of O-Cellos tumbling from under the kitchen sink.

I used to have this whole elaborate system, too, regarding the rotation in which they should be used (dishes, counters, bathrooms, floors – duh), but I couldn’t manage to train Johnny to do it right, so now we just have two. Well, the bathroom one stays in the bathroom, but in the kitchen we have two: a scrubby one for dishes, and a non-scrubby for all the rest.

In fact, the reason I was under that sink-cabinet yesterday was to get a new non-scrubby sponge. I’d used the one that had been there to dust the TV, and so obviously it would have to be demoted. I saw the stack of sponge-packs, laughed at myself and went to get the camera, took the photograph, and then…

Look at that picture.

“...the reason I was under that sink-cabinet yesterday was to get a new non-scrubby sponge...”

Oh, god!

I guess this week's allotment of spare pennies are spoken for.

I only hope I've got enough room in the car.


Khurston said...

Whoa, that's amazing! I've never seen anything like it! A interior picture of your house without a roll of toilet paper in frame!? (those *are* paper towels at the bottom left, correct?)

EGE said...

Nope. Trash bags!

su said...

OK OK I know you think the sponge thing is gross. But when Daddy was out of work and I needed to resort to food stamps and the school lunch ( which by the way was only reduced and not free for you, and I only allowed each of you to pick one day to utilize the "system" as I did not want you to believe there was such thing as a "free lunch") The rest of the time I packed those tupperwears with fruit and sandwiches on home made bread and home baked desserts.Well toilet paper sponges, paper towels etc were not on the list of allowed purchases so I reused and reused and again.
They were tough times but good times because it forced us to find free things to do together. Remember the giant roll of brown paper on the dining room table where you all would gather to create my Christmas wrapping paper? And climbing on the dam to harvest grapes for grape jelly that lasted the year? Or surfing down the hills at the Quabbin on a cardboard and a fun picnic after. They were the "best of times and the worst of times. Poignant

EGE said...

Don't worry, Mommie Dearest, nobody out in blogland thinks you were an evil parent.

But they ALL think the sponge thing was freaking GROSS!

LadyCiani said...

Climbing on a dam to harvest grapes sounds like a story in itself. How many grapes did you have that the jam lasted all year?

su said...

3 kiddos on the dam at the peek of the harvest We probably made about 10 quarts of jelly. But we also had blackberries in the back yard and also wild blue berries on the hill which I preserved. It was a grande but poor life!

Anonymous said...

Yep. We were raised in the same damn family. Cept we went to public school and Dad told us to pay our own way thru college.

We didn't even have money for A single sponge. Mom used a washcloth and laundered it once a week. I did dishes with a WASHCLOTH. So yeah, I've got a sponge obsession too.

Did you see my post today about RIF? I can't even read my own damn blog today without crying.

Anonymous said...

Oh and being a "Berkshires family" we spent weeks every summer picking blueberries. I thought it was the best thing ever. My parents' friends would come, they'd build a bonfire and we'd get HOLY SMOKES STOP THE PRESSES...marshmellos from the grocery store!!!

It was a great time. Being poor in the 70's rocked the house. The Fiance can't relate at all. I laugh myself sick when I watch "That 70's Show" and he doesn't get it at all...

LadyCiani said...

I missed the 70s, being born in 1980. My husband shares some of the same memories - the latest one was "Tomato Jelly" or was it jam? Anyway, he said his mom made it and it was great.

High praise from the pickiest eater I have EVER met!

EGE said...

LadyCiani -- It was SO cool! It was an old dam that there wasn't water behind anymore (leftover from the flood in the '30s), and nobody knew about it. We felt like robbers, but it was public land. We'd put pounds and pounds of Concord grapes in paper grocery sacks. And when we made the jelly, Mom would let us eat the skimmed-off foam on saltine crackers. Woohoo!

RT -- Yeah? Well, Johnny grew up in a crisp bag in the middle of a lake!

Everybody else -- if you haven't read RT's post about the Reading id Fundamental bookmobile getting sacked by the "leave no child behind" government (which is hopefully getting the sack themselves in less than a year), please follow her link and read it. Then do what you can.

Books rule. Being poor rocks. My mom is the shit.

cake said...

Wow. Your childhood could be switched with mine with very few edits...and I never realized how poor we were till much later, either. I found a note asking my parents for $5 for class and my Mom's reply was, "Sweetie: Ask the teacher if she can wait two days and then we'll have it."

I've been tight for money as an adult but never THAT tight! Though I do have a tendency to freak over small debts and buy too many canned goods. Lingering remnants of childhood, maybe?

Maple sugar...mmmm.

Hey, can you spare a sponge?

su said...

Wow I was a shit? No matter how poor we were I always bought kids books flea markets swaps or school book clubs we had anhuge bookshelf full of kids books. No Florida trips or cruises though!

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to tell Mom that being "The Shit" is a good thing. :)

EGE said...

Not A shit, Mommie, THE shit -- it's a very different thing!

EGE said...

Yeah! We were commenting at the same time, but thanks, RT!

su said...

ahhhh ok I guess I get it I hope I do?????