Monday, July 25, 2011


My parents both became adults during the height of the depression.  But even before the country was blanketed in the cloak of economic chaos, they were both being raised in blue collar families where the income was modest and earned by genuine sweat equity (my paternal grandfather worked on the railroad and my maternal grandfather did a number of jobs, among them mining coal).  They both came away from it deeply impacted, and their Depression experiences would form a blueprint for how they lived their lives for the remainder of their days.  But, perhaps ironically, they diverged in how they processed it and dealt with it.

Mother, as I've chronicled before, was a hoarder.  A habit that became decidedly worse as she got older, when it was no longer kept in check by being moved constantly from base to base, and when their income allowed she began to gather possessions at a rate that alarmed my father and would trouble my days.  While she gathered everything and anything, food stores in particular seemed to be her urgency.  Even as a widow living alone, she bought groceries as though she was preparing to cook for the 101st Airborne.  And throw anything away?  No, never.  We had to sneak it out and risk her wrath if she caught us.

Dad, on the other hand, was frugal and highly organized.  There were things he allowed himself, no doubt.  I have his custom made hunting rifle, a beautiful thing of burnished blond wood.  I remember him taking a couple of trips to Canada to hunt or fish.  They bought the cabin - hardly a resort, but still a whole second dwelling.  But, financial matters were a predominant concern of his, that was clear.  He kept careful track of their finances and worried over the bills, as I do now.  He was laid off from his job at the university when I was about 10 or 11.  I didn't really understand it at the time, but I can look back now and realize the torment he went through during that time.  And, even at my age I saw the despair in his eyes when he took a job at the downtown liquor store to keep us going while he studied for his Real Estate license.  He hated working there, I could see it even as a little girl.  But, he would rather swallow his pride and work at a job he clearly was humiliated to do rather than not pay his bills, or deprive his only daughter of a Christmas.

I can respect and love him for that now, but for a long time we butted heads on just about everything and the worst of it was  the night of my high school graduation, as we were walking back to the parking lot, when he announced to me that he would not pay for my college.  WTF?!  I had grown up believing that was a given.  To tell me now, about two and a half months before I was due to start at the college he dictated I go to, and on the night of my graduation nonetheless.  That was a blow.  I think the move to Texas began right then, just neither of us realized it at the time.  Some many years later, I decided he did it to toughen me up, and that he thought it would better prepare me for the real world.  A little bit like putting me through my own personal version of the Depression.  He had worked his way through college, I think he thought it would be a good life lesson if I did too.  But, Jeezus-Pleezus, I was a 17-year old girl who hadn't worked during her senior year because we weren't allowed to if we were on the paper or yearbook staff (I was copy editor of the yearbook).  I think I had something like $3,000 in savings.  That was probably more than a lot of my friends, but certainly not tuition for four years of college.  If you think about it, that was a defining moment for me, and a lot of the decisions that I would make that have led me to this little home office in Glenshaw, PA started in that moment, in a crowded parking lot of the Montana State University Fieldhouse.

I don't know that I can tell you that I've ever completely forgiven him for that.  Bringing me up to expect to earn my own tuition money would have been the better path, I think.  Failing that, maybe - while not in the parking lot leaving my graduation - telling me that their economic situation had changed so they could only pay for my freshman year and after that I would be on my own.  Those are things I could have swallowed easier.  I'll never know exactly what prompted that exchange at that moment; we never talked about it.

But I do know that for Dad the glass was always half empty.  He saw potential financial distress around every corner.  Mother was different.  She had grown up in a large family with a working class father, and she wanted to break from that.  She wasn't ashamed of it.  She just wanted to show how far she had come from it.  Community status was important to her.  For Mother, no matter how much was in the glass, she was going to portray that it was way more than half full.  I think that has gotten me into some trouble long after they are both gone because she wanted people - some of whom I still am associated with - to think she was very well off.

I am clearly an interesting hybrid of both personalities.  I absorbed what I saw of both of them and they both exhibit themselves in how I conduct myself.  As I've often chronicled, the ghost of my father drove my work habits, and I worry obsessively over money as he did, but, and highly unfortunately, I've had to worry over it in part because I have some of the impetuous nature of my mother.  Just look at my overflowing jewelry chest and you can tell I didn't really deny myself much at one point in my life.  I doubt Dad would have made a move like this, it's been highly expensive and financially disastrous.  Mother would have in a heartbeat.

Now I feel as though I am standing on the edge of a very steep cliff that is eroding under my feet, and I wonder how long it will be before it just all comes crashing down.  The panic attacks have lessened since I sat down and wrote about them.  Of course, that is why I did it.  No great psychology going on there:  face your fears and call them out for what they are and they lose some power over you, but the worry is still oppressive.  If we had stayed in Texas, we could have been okay for longer, but eventually that would have changed.  I made less and it costs more to live down there, but I had savings that I used on this move, and we would not have to have done all the remodeling on that house.  But, I look around me and am so glad to be here, and I think back to how horrible it was to be there - the Beast's ghost lurking around every corner - and I don't regret what I've done.  Just probably could have managed it all a little better.  But, even if I did have regrets:  what's done is done.  Now all there can be is moving forward.

However, for anyone who clings to the notion that I am some sort of Leprechaun sitting on a pot of gold, I have news for you:  there are no such thing as Leprechauns.  And while I may be Irish, there's no magic rainbow I know of to make the situation I'm in now any different.  The only thing that's going to is a little American hard work and ingenuity.
Warwick Davis, Leprechaun, 1993


  1. right, you're no Leprechaun, YOU'RE SITTING ON THE JEW GOLD!

  2. I will entitle this comment "What's the worst that could happen, they say "No, thank you" - here is my suggestion: compile your posts, sent them to a publisher and propose a book on your experience. It could help a lot of people, and it might land you a publishing deal. All they can do is say no, and one of them might say yes.