“I wonder what the po’ folks are doing tonight?” was a saying I heard often growing up. Dad would say that when he felt life was particularly good. And usually it wasn’t anything extravagant: Mom would make a pot of ham and beans with hot cornbread on a cold day; as we would sit around the campfire with our pop-up camper at Spencer Creek; or at Christmas when we were surrounded by our large extended family in a tiny home.
The irony of this statement didn’t catch up with me until around high school. By many people’s standards, we were “the po’ folk”. I am the youngest of 5 children and shared a bedroom with my parents until 3rd or 4th grade. Mom didn’t work outside the home; she had plenty to do raising the family. A lot of the food that we ate came from our dairy cow, chickens, cattle and the family garden. She made it all taste like a slice of Heaven. What we didn’t grow, Mom purchased at various grocery stores, depending on what coupons she had clipped. Double coupon day was not to be missed.
My four older sisters wore dresses that were hand-sewn by her. I’m sure there were lots of hand-me-downs as well, but as the only boy I wasn’t too concerned about that. There aren’t many school pictures of me as a youngster that I’m not wearing jeans with at least one patch sewn on the knees.
Mom collected green stamps. Books and books of green stamps. The memory of them still makes my gag reflex kick in, because someone had to lick all those stamps and put them in the books. Green stamps were like gold to our family. I remember looking though the green stamp catalog dreaming about what we would get. There’s only one thing I can recall getting though – my first Boy Scout uniform. We had to drive to Miami to get it, and on the way home it was me who wondered “what the po’ folks might be doing”.
Wonderful memories were painted throughout my childhood. Dad had the ability to make even the worst chores enjoyable. When we cut wood for the winter, we would often take hot dogs and buns to cook as we burned the brush pile. I got
to “ski” behind the tractor in winter when we went out to feed the cattle. He convinced me that cutting weeds by hand with a weed whacker would improve my baseball swing (on that, he was wrong). Weekends were filled with family game nights of WaHoo, Pitch, and Dominoes that would last well into the night.
My kids have never had to share a bedroom with me. My wife and I tried to grow strawberries last year, but the extreme heat finally defeated us. We have planted an apple tree, and with luck the 7 apples on it will ripen and we will taste the fruits of our labor! On paper, I know that I have done better financially than my father. The thing of it is, Dad didn’t measure wealth by paper standards. His wealth came from enjoying every breath. Wherever he was. Whatever he was doing. We are all given just 24 hours each day. No more. No less. Regardless of how big your house is, the emblem on your car, or the gold watch on your wrist that counts the minutes. By his standard, Dad was a very, very wealthy man. I’m glad he left some of that inheritance to me.