Monday, June 19, 2006

Merging stories

I've detected a trend lately.

Some days I'll write an autobiographical chapter (from the vast and terribly interesting annals of my life,) and then I'll write about something I'm grappling with today. Whether it's the unique challenge of living in community or some new thought about God, there's a see-saw effect going on that I can't seem to control.

That's not new. I've been a "flitter" from the day of my birth... short attention span. I can come back to an idea and pick it up and run with it for a while, but then I drop it and go on to something else. I read three to five books at a time, a chapter here from one, a paragraph there from another. I will eventually get them all read, but it takes awhile.

So here's an attempt to merge two streams of thought... something from my past that has cause and effect on my present.

I mentioned a few posts back that I have money issues. More accurately: lack of money issues. In the day to day living of my life, it's no big deal. I don't have a huge wish list of things I want. It's when I go out into the world and interact with friends and relatives that I fall back into the old tape recordings of my childhood.

My mother came of age during the Great Depression. She and Nana stilled called it that when I was little, and they'd tell me stories about how awful it was. There were the "food" stories: supper might be a single boiled potato, or a bowl of saltine crackers and milk. (Crackers and milk later became one of my mom's favorite comfort foods, especially during the summer when it was too hot to cook.) There were the "make do or do without" stories. When my mom graduated from high school, the girls were required to wear white dresses. She couldn't afford to buy one, so she embroidered a tablecloth and napkins. For weeks she sold raffle tickets door to door for a quarter. She earned enough money to buy the material to make her dress.

My mom was an excellent seamstress. She made all my clothes, until I reached the age of wanting something with a label in the collar, just like the other kids. When I was pregnant with my first son, tent dresses were in fashion, and she altered a basic pattern to make me maternity dresses. Our tastes were very different though. My mom loved big splashy prints in loud colors; I liked little Laura Ashley flowers. We both liked plaid, so that was the compromise. She admitted only once that she had wanted to be a dress designer when she grew up, but Nana had told her "Just get that idea out of your head right now!" There was no money for design school. Instead, my mom worked as a maid to put her older sister through nursing school, and then her sister worked to pay her way through hairdressing school. She didn't want to be a hairdresser, it was my aunt's idea. (It was one of the cheapest trade schools.)

Later when my dad left, she would say it was a good thing she had that profession to fall back on, because we'd be starving if she hadn't. Having a profession to fall back on became a regular theme of any discussion of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I learned our family's complicated money dance. It went like this: something handmade was nice but something bought and paid for was special. A handmade gift or card produced a wan smile and "oh isn't this nice? She made it." While something purchased with allowance or later, babysitting money received a standing ovation. "I love it! You shouldn't have! You spent your hard earned money to buy me this? This must have cost a fortune." (Translate: You must really love me.) Of course it makes sense in retrospect, but it was a piss-poor way to encourage the creativity of an artistic child.

The way to solve problems, the way to express love, the way to feel worthwhile revolved around money. You pursue a career that makes good money means you're ambitious... a success. You manage your money well... you're a success. You spend lavishly... you really love me. And our culture definitely supports that view. Buy, buy, buy... to keep the economy strong.

Now I am an adult, and new friends have helped me rethink and reshape. I'm much better than I was, but some days I just can't get that old song out of my head.


Pilot Mom said...

CJ, I think anything handmade is TONS better than store bought! Isn't that sad but I can see why they began to think that way. I detect a lack of trust in the Lord. Is that an accurate detection? (By them.)

Anonymous said...

sounds like your family has a few careers to fall back on. nursin is a gret profession now a days

kpjara said...

THis rings so father still shows his love through monetary gifts. I'll never understand it. I've thought about stashing the money for a day when he'll really need it, but don't want to offend him.

Luke said...

My grandma thinks that's how you express love in a meanignful way. Also to say thank you. Sometimes when your offered money, it can be so offensive.