My childhood home was just four rooms heated by a big black stove in the kitchen. We had no phone, no car, and a pull chain toilet in the basement. Money was tight and there had to be enough left each month to pay the rent.
I spent my days in youthful endeavors. Playing baseball in the field where the high school now stands. My dad, a laborer, walked to work every day regardless of weather. I cannot remember him ever staying home. My mom typed envelopes evenings for the local fuel oil company to earn extra money.
At suppertime, my mom would stand on the back steps and ring a cow bell, calling me home. Every kid in the neighborhood knew what the bell meant. Responding was not an option. I would quickly ride my bike home, wash my hands, and join the family at the table. The food was not plentiful, but was prepared with love. I never went hungry.
When I was in my teens, my dad took ill and could no longer work. He spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. Mom got a job at Woolworth’s and I got a couple of paper routes. My earnings were split with my parents.
Neighborhoods were tightly knit then. Bad news arrived home before you did. Fruits of backyard gardens were shared and a helping hand lived right next door.
School clothes, always clean and ironed, were few in number and they were just that. School clothes. You took them off when you got home and pulled on some old jeans with iron on patches on the knees. Shoes were passed down from my brother, their lives extended by glued on half-soles or cardboard, cut to shape and stuffed inside. But mostly, I wore my high top P.F. Flyers.
Christmas meant a cut tree in the living room with strings of large colored lights. Our stockings were hung on hooks behind the black stove, to be filled overnight with oranges, apples, candy, and maybe a toy. We were allowed to take one gift to bed with us to be opened in the morning before getting up. We thought we were the luckiest kids in town.
Sitting here now, reflecting on my childhood, I think how hard it must have been to make ends meet, but meet they did. I think of all the things my folks must have gone without to make sure that their kids didn’t.. We learned early the value of a dollar.
I think of the life lessons learned, like respecting my elders. My folks taught me not only to know the difference between right and wrong, but also to practice it. Their values became my values and have stood me in good stead for over a half century. But their greatest gift of course was the love and guidance they provided.
I realize now all my memories are good ones. My folks gave me everything it was important for me to have. And although I didn’t realize it then, I understand now how lucky I was to have grown up rich.