We never lived in a poor house…or The Poor House I am going to tell you about in the paragraphs below.
Our home was in a fairly well-to-do neighborhood on one of the more classy streets in my hometown. We had a garage and a 1949 purple Cadillac in the driveway. Our house boasted five bedrooms…there were six of us in the family so we had a chance to sleep where we wanted. It was a nice, respectable house on a fine street. But, my father, being a child of the Great Depression, always tried to do things himself so no local plumber or roofer would rip him off. He kept his wallet tight and close to his hip like many of his generation.
I tried to be a good boy. My mother did her best with four boys to be a good mom, but she too was of the generation that experienced the poverty of the 1930’s. She cooked simple meals and made use of simple kitchen tools. I think Betty Crocker was her twin that was separated at birth. Our pie crust had lard and butter. The berry fillings were often hand picked hours before the oven was turned on.
This is where I come in to ruin her perfect world. I had a secret I lived with as a child…my wife says I still have it. This horrible rotten thing dwelt in my gut, deep and untouchable. It also lived in my pockets. I was ashamed to talk about it. I was only to listen to my mother repeatedly tell me how I was going to bring shame and public scorn on our little family.
But I couldn’t help myself. My needs were greater than the welfare of the familial unit. I can still hear my mother utter those words that built a wall of self-loathing around me to this day.
Your very reason won’t allow this, but none of this had to do with puberty.
If it was that simple, all I would have to do is stop thinking of girls…but life is never simple and my crimes were unrelated to anyone named Becky or Sandy. So, perhaps it’s time for my confession:
You see, and I tremble while I type, my problem…my addiction…my self-loathing was due to the fact that I had a disease.
I had the “Buy Me’s”.
I wanted things. It might be a Schwinn one week or a parakeet the next. I just wanted to buy stuff…and best of all…I wanted stuff bought for me.
So, my mother, bless her soul, would tell me that I, yes only I, was going to send the entire family to The Poor House. Some kids of my generation feared the orphanage but not me. I feared that we would have to give up our nice house and go to live in The Poor House. I had not read Dickens yet, so the image of the Debtors Prison was not on my horizon.
But The Poor House? Who would visit? How would my girlfriends find me? What would happen to us?
The Poor House was a real place. It’s still there, right where my mother would point it out to me as she shook her finger.
A few weeks ago, after visiting my hometown, I drove past the buildings while driving my SUV; a car I always wanted.
I stopped for a quick photo with my CoolPix, a camera I wanted when digital came out. I couldn’t stop long, though, I needed to get to a particular store that had something I really needed.
Truly a childhood memory of where someone could end up one day. “Thanks Pat” … you have such a gift for writing and we are all so lucky to share that with you!