I grew up fairly poor. My highly educated parents (M.Theology, Valparaiso; JD, Harvard) chose to be downwardly mobile and raise their children in inner-city Cincinnati. We were always looking for cheap or free things to do. One of our favorites was walking ten blocks to the Emery Theater every weekend for a cheap double-feature. I was the same age my parents had been when I saw Snow White, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Meet Me in St. Louis, and My Fair Lady. I could contrast a Ziegfeld Folly with a Busby Berkeley Musical.
One of my exciting local finds here is The Stanford Theater. Just a brief drive and I access a cheap double-feature every weekend. Yesterday featured A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and People Will Talk. Sure, it was me sitting among all the old people that live in a 5-mile radius, but we all had fun. No really, in the finale of People Will Talk half of them sang along to some Latin (German?) song. (Now my Dad will leave a comment upbraiding me for my ignorance…it's probably the Stanford anthem)
Movies back then were made under strict censorship laws. No visible blood. No open mouth kissing. No cursing. Both of these movies featured pregnant women. As a result, I discovered the censors did not approve of obviously pregnant woman. No wonder I was shocked by my sister's post-baby stomach. In the movies women left the hospital as skinny as they went in!
Watching A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was both foreign and familiar all at the same time. One of my close friends in college let me interview her for a class on memoir and biography. She shared how her mom would take her and the two other kids onto the bus and daily pretend to have lost the bus fare. How they had a collection of groceryhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif store carts in their back yard. Abuse. Drugs. She also told me her favorite book of all time was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She added that none of her friends had ever read the whole book despite her begging. Well, that was as close to a dare as I ever needed so in I waded. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the plot because it’s a painful read, but I made it to the end!
I watched the movie and thought of my friend. I remembered my own childhood, hiding in the backseat of the car while Mom waited in the food stamp line. Getting day-old bread at the Freestore. Never having stylish clothes. Having a Dad who was a wonderful playmate, but not always reliable (absent-minded and always late). Having a mother who spent a lot of time tense and scared about money and quick to criticize my father’s tendencies.
Yet those feelings seemed so far away from my current life. My husband is very worried about our current finances; we’re eating into our savings and I need to get a job. Fair enough. But it’s been difficult for me to feel the fear in the same way he is. I know what poor feels like and we’re nowhere near that tension wire. I can drink milk with my French toast and order a drink in a restaurant. In my world, that’s rich.