I suppose “being poor” is a relative term. Evidently, I was “poor” growing up in a very rural area of the Ozarks, but because almost everyone I knew was in similar circumstances, I didn’t even realize. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I began to understand that I was, in fact, poor.
The first house I can remember living in didn’t have electricity until the late 1950s. We didn’t have running water or indoor plumbing until my parents built (entirely with their own hands) a new house, that we moved into sometime in the early 1960s. There was no TV until 1963 and, until the death of my parents at the turn of the century, they never owned more than one. Dad finally installed a window air conditioner about the time I left for college but did not allow it to be turned on unless the weatherman forecasted at least three days in a row above 90 degrees F.
I’m not so naive as to be unaware that there are poor people everywhere. One can’t turn on the news without seeing some tug-at-your-heart story about a struggling family or individual who seems to have lost all hope or purpose. The ones that show kids in these situations certainly bring tears to my eyes, as well, but consider this:
- 99% of all Americans have running water and indoor plumbing
- 96% have at least one color TV (the vast majority have more than one)
- 96% have a cellphone
- 90% have an air conditioner (I’ll bet most of them don’t wait until it’s 90 degrees to turn it on)
- 78% have a computer
- 85 million Americans eat at a fast food restaurant at least once every day
When you compare “poor” people in America to the majority of people in developing nations, our “poor” people would be considered well-to-do.
I was watching a TV comedy special recently by a multimillionaire entertainer. It was extremely funny, and I like this comedian very much, but toward the end of his show, he got serious and started to talk about his childhood and how poor his family was. When he talked about being so cold in the winter that he begged his father to turn up the thermostat, all I could think was, “You had a thermostat?” If I was cold and complained about it, my dad would tell me to go to the woodpile and bring in another armload of firewood.
In his next riff, the comedian explained that his dad would tell him, “If you’re that cold, put on another layer of clothes,” and he answered that he already had on the three suits of clothes that he owned.
Again, my thought was, “You owned three suits of clothes?”
He ended his monologue by telling us that two good parents raised him with love, and he succeeded in spite of being raised “poor.”
While I admire the man, I like to think that any modicum of success I have been able to achieve is because of being raised “poor.”
Crownover lives in Missouri.