I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination. So why do I feel guilty about having things?
In fact, I feel more than guilty. I feel apologetic. You know how some people like to put on airs? Acting like they have more than they really do? I’m the opposite. I downplay my life and I really started wondering why.
It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi.
Okay. Wait. That wasn’t really me. Just a line from one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Jerk.”
Seriously, I did grow up somewhere between lower middle class and middle middle class on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. We had a big house by most people’s standards. But to me, it was just the right size to house my mom, my dad, four kids, 3 dogs, 4 cats, and my grandmother, for a brief period of time.
We had an in-ground swimming pool in our large, wooded backyard. We had a Cadillac. We had a motorhome. We had nice, clean clothes. Feeling sorry for me yet? Not everything is always as it seems.
We had a swimming pool because it was my dad’s dream and we took out a second mortgage to pay for it. A second mortgage that we could never really afford.
Our Cadillac was many, many years old when we bought it used. For us, it was the coolest car because it had white leather seats (or was it vinyl?) and a cool metallic blue color on the outside. Most of the time, our cars were barely running and we often bartered for them, losing family heirlooms along the way.
And that motorhome? It was a 1970-something barely-running breadbox on wheels that we purchased with a small inheritance from my grandmother’s estate. But again, we loved it because it had cool shag green carpeting inside and it was our dream to vacation in one. Two vacations later, broken down on the side of the highway, our beloved Starcraft met its maker.
My grandmother was heaven sent. She and her charge cards made sure that we always had new clothes for each school year. I know she paid for a lot of other things too but as a child, we never really knew what was going on.
Behind all of these stories was a family of dysfunction. Nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve learned over the years that most people have a dysfunctional family. It’s the new normal, I guess. There were times when my dad was unemployed and we had no money for food. We shopped at the food bank, ate government cheese, and accepted donations from churches. We shopped at thrift stores for our school clothes. We stuffed envelopes for extra money.
Maybe it was these humble, or rather humbling, beginnings that make me feel so self-conscious about my life. I drive a 2009 fully loaded vehicle. We have a beautiful four bedroom home for just the three of us. I wear nice clothes and shoes and we manage to keep up with the latest toys.
So why do I have to mention that my dad works for a car company and helped me get employee pricing? Or that we got a terrific deal on our house and we do all the home improvements ourselves? Or that I never pay full price for anything? (in fact, I always buy good brands off of the clearance rack at outlets and discount stores).
My husband tells me that I should simply say thank you when someone compliments me on something. Instead, I find myself responding to a compliment by talking about the great deal I got and how much I saved. I think about why I am this way. I feel extremely fortunate to have the life that I have. But do I also feel unworthy? Maybe. I’m still figuring this out. One thing I do know is that if all of the “things” disappeared tomorrow, I’d still be happy to have a healthy family that loves me.
P.S. This post was written on my MacBook that was purchased used from a friend for $250 and that my husband fixed up for me. I’m sure it retails for way more than that. In case you were wondering.