Monday, January 27, 2014

The noble pride of self-induced poverty

Ziplock bags for food storage originally surfaced to the mainstream market in 1968.  Naturally my parents refused to buy them because their ever-popular song and dance was “they are too expensive, and we are poor.”  They insisted on buying the less-expensive version “baggies-brand” food storage bags with the fold over top.  Before the debut of the fold-over top, was the plastic bag with a twist-tie.  For a long time, we were subjected to this inconvenience in another misguided attempt to maintain their status of noble deprivation.

When everyone around us drank Coca-cola, we had RC cola because it was cheaper and not very much of it, mind you, maybe once a week.  Other folks had Heinz ketchup but we had the off-brand.   I never once had a pair of authentic Levis blue jeans until I was an adult and bought them myself. 

My father had a bad habit of not paying his bills and it routinely bit him in the behind.  He was unable to purchase a newer car.  His credit history was abominable and as a result he was unable to qualify for loans when he needed them.  This led to more stinginess because if you can’t buy anything with payments, then you are very limited as to how much can actually be paid for out of pocket, in-full.

Whatever was the latest and greatest thing was surely never to be found in our house.  We were conditioned to endure the sacrifice of any and all modern conveniences, in the name of avoiding extravagance.   Store-bought clothing and up-to-date fully operational automobiles and appliances were an unnecessary luxury, as long as sporadic appearances of hand-me-downs could be had for free and old barely working models could be pieced together for a few more miles before collapsing into ruin, sometimes leaving us stranded miles from home.

Light bulbs would burn out leaving dark spaces and batteries would become depleted, never to be replaced.  Closets were dark and appliance features were useless.  Wall switches and electrical outlets frequently did not work.  Cars would not start on demand, or if they did start in order to leave the house they would likely fail to start for the return home. 

My parents’ philosophy was never to spend money on convenience or maintenance of any kind.  In the blistering Phoenix summer heat, we would put on our Sunday best and pile into an old car with no air conditioning only to arrive at our destination dripping in sweat and miserable if we were lucky enough that the car didn't overheat on the way, leaving us to walk.

Through it all, my dad would yell at my mom and snarl about the inconveniences and fray everyone’s nerves to the last shred, as if someone other than he, was responsible for the situation.  Other people, including family members would arrive cool and comfortable in their air conditioned vehicles loaded with their laughing carefree children wearing stylish clothes and shoes that fit well and playing with the latest toys.

I knew better than to even ask for new clothes or a trendy toy because I already knew what the answer would be and I would be lucky to escape with my emotional dignity intact as well.  My experience in school was very negative because of never having the right clothes and shoes or hairstyle or school supplies.

Living in poverty affects people differently.  I learned very young about the importance of a good credit history and resolved to always pay my bills no matter what.  Because of this, I was eager to finish school and get a job to provide for myself and I promised myself once I escaped the confines of my parents’ grasp, never to live in poverty again.  In my house, we have every convenient size of Ziplock bag available, hahaha.