October 29, 2006

Let's go out to the lobby...and get ourselves a drink!

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.


bg's Little Sis said...

Thinking you know poor and knowing poor are so very different I agree. I thought I knew poor until I met my husband and learned of his childhood. I worry about the money a lot more than he does. I never want to be where either of us were as kids, I never want a lot of that for my kids, but some of it would be good, no TV, the joy of reading encyclopedias, the simple pleasures that occupied our time and were so much fun and it was enough. Finding the balance is tough.

I love old movies too.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful reminis.

But, you're wrong. There are many movies
I haven't seen, and one of them is People
Will Talk. I have no idea whether the song
was German, Latin, or Old Church Slavonic.

otr sister said...

Ahh, my post-baby tummy. Good times.

I liked your analysis on the parents and family. I remember playing on the swings in the nearby park while Mom waited in the food stamp line. I guess I was young enough to be oblivious.

zelda1 said...

My mom was single and raised ten kids, yep. It was a commodotity line back in my day and we stood there with her as she waited for her turn and they filled our brown paper bags with cheese, butter, peanut butter, flour, and beans and rice and you get the idea. The rest of the time, she drove us around and we stole corn from farmers and pecans and green beans, often by the moon light. She baked and made our clothes out of flour sacks and one time I wore one to school that was blue in the front and red in the back. Yep, sure did. I know what you mean. I'm poor now, but not poor. We have what we need and what we want and seem to have extra. I, like you, know poor.

Mama Nabi said...

This is so weird (not the post but the coincidence) - I just got done talking about the same thing with my co-workers, how poverty is so relative... I think we tend to take some of our luxuries for granted until we see others who are struggling for simple necessities in life. My older sister (who was more aware of our family finances) is constantly in fear of 'losing everything' (which our family pretty much did) despite her good job and comfortable lifestyle whereas I'm more optimistic (things always seem to work out - probably because my parents never really told me how hard-up we were) despite not having a lot of savings...