We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. (Wait — isn’t that what everyone says?) It was a time when Moms stayed at home and Dads earned the paychecks.
We had one “previously owned” car. I remember watching my father pull out the back seat and anchor and install seat belts, so his kids would be protected. Back seat belts weren’t mandatory then — something we don’t even think about today.
Having one car meant logistical coordination if that vehicle was needed outside of Dad’s working hours. When he was on shift work, everyone went along (there were occasional car pool respites) for drop-off and pick-up, even if it meant midnight and sleepy-headed pajamas.
Long wind-up here, I know.
My parents did everything in their power to provide a good life for their family, and they succeeded. But it happened only by making sacrifices and going the extra mile.
My Mother cooked from scratch, sewed and mended clothes, and kept our house cleaner than any I’ve seen, even to this day. I learned to vacuum with that old green canister and hose.
I remember the joy and pride of new slipcovers for our aging couch, created by a talented seamstress.
My Father built furniture for our house when necessary — a sturdy, large desk for my room, built and installed a kitchen table, the board base for my HO slot cars, fashioned from an old Ping-Pong table. He changed the oil and did car repairs. Yard work. Everything. When any of the other fathers in the neighborhood planned a project, the first step was to call in “Big Jim.”
It was in most ways a typical 1960s family. (In other ways, there were unique challenges — but that’s not part of this story.)
My parents set excellent examples for me of how you do your best and even make sacrifices for the greater good of the family.
There was one thing my Father did during this time that didn’t fully register.
He was unemployed — I never knew this.
He took on a part-time job driving a cab. It was a grinding and sometimes dangerous way to make a few extra bucks. He was threatened and had a gun pulled on him. People tried to run off without paying. He worked in a rough part of town during an era when racial tensions were high. But he made money, to support his family.
Recently, he told me a wonderful story about a day he spent with Jesse Owens, picking him up at a downtown hotel and driving him to an out of town location. Owens was a kind, considered and thoughtful man — unlike today’s so-called superstar athletes.
Owens treated my Father with respect and dignity.
It was one of the very bright moments during an otherwise tough experience.
Switch gears: I’ve been out of work since last year. Early last year. I’ve had a few contract placements and close to 20 sincere interviews. I make a small income from freelance writing, but not enough to bear an equal burden of keeping our family beyond sinking survival mode.
This week was my first week training for a job at a convenience store for a well-known chain. The work is physical, non-stop and an overwhelming challenge to absorb countless policies and procedures, which all must be done with exacting care — and breakneck speed. If I’m lucky, I get to sit down and eat my lunch for 30 minutes. Otherwise, it’s on my feet all day. No sitting.
I’m a liberal arts desk jockey who’s spent his career breaking rules in search of a better way. I’ve always been able to sit when I wanted to, and take breaks when I created the time.
My biggest fear has been people who know me feeling some sort of pity.
That’s far from the case. I need to do whatever I can to help my family. I’m employed by a well-respected, excellently administrated corporation that offers endless opportunities. It’s one of the best companies to be employed by.
What helps me focus the most, though, is my own memories as a child growing up in a household where people rolled up their sleeves and got the job done — even if it meant driving a cab for a few extra bucks.