My parents both grew up poorer than dirt. Holes in shoes, ketchup sandwiches, kind of poor. 11 siblings in my mom’s family, 13 in my dad’s. My parents met and married and were still poor. My dad was a newbie in the Air Force and the lack of stripes meant that there was a lack of a lot of things. I recall my mom saying that when my oldest brother was born a year into their marriage, she would take my dad’s paycheck and go to the base commissary and buy everything he needed first: baby food, formula, diapers, clothes, etc…and whatever was left was what she and my dad lived on until the next paycheck.
And clean. Always clean. Even the ratty old hot barracks they lived in sparkled. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “Soap and water cost next to nothing.”
My dad worked hard, adding chevrons to his arm. By the time I arrived, they were living a fairly comfortable middle class life. Nothing fancy or name brand, but all their needs were met.
What’s more, I lived in a house where, although we didn’t have a lot, what we had was cared for. My parents insisted on it. In fact, the idea of caring for what you had was a cornerstone of our home, summed up by the quote I can, to this day, hear my mom saying:
“If you don’t take care of what you have NOW, why would I give you MORE?”
Needless to say, my mom didn’t suffer those who didn’t work hard, those who didn’t care for what they had; those who wasted. I recall living in K.I. Sawyer AFB in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On our second assignment there, we lived in a neighborhood filled with duplexes. Our adjoining duplex family became great friends, but the neighbor to the left of us, well, my mom just couldn’t. To give you an idea of the wreck that was their home, my mom said, “If it looks like that on the OUTSIDE, can you imagine what it looks like on the inside.”
Mind you, it was base housing meaning it was an IDENTICAL home. It wasn’t like we were in some sort of la-dee-dah house rolling in the dough while the family next door lived in a shed. No, a lovely duplex with hardwood floors that backed up to a wooded area. And yet, that house was a wreck; the kind of house where all the abandoned things found their way into the backyard.
I hadn’t thought about that house for a long time, but I thought about it today as I drove through a part of my city that is just east of downtown. It’s actually the area my mom grew up in, although, you’d never know it. Like many old neighborhoods in the country, it is a shell of its former self, the kind of neighborhood you think twice about driving through at night. And then your hurt hearts that you had to think twice.
I noticed there were a few homes that were being cared for: new paint, windows were clean, the yards looked nice. Just a few, but they were there. And it made me happy. I hope it catches on and that neighborhood will once again be filled with people who care.
And it started me thinking.
I know. Uh oh. SHE’S THINKING OUT LOUD AGAIN. #sorrynotsorry
How do you MAKE people care?
And after thinking long and hard, I came up with the answer: you don’t.
Some people will never care that they have weeds in their yard, weeds that cost nothing to pull. They will never care that a plastic kiddy pool has been sitting in the front yard for years, a plastic kiddy pool that the city will gladly haul away from the curb for free.
Simply put, some people will never take care of what they have.
Some people just won’t care.
And we can spend a whole lot of tax payer money to tackle “inequity,” and Lord knows we have and still do to the tune of roughly $1.03 trillion dollars a year, but the truth is what the truth has always been: you can’t MAKE people care; you can’t MAKE people take care of things; you can’t MAKE people have a good work ethic; you can’t MAKE people spend their money wisely…you simply can’t.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this understanding. My mom, however, got there quick. I grew up comfortably middle class, but the grown woman known as my mother who grew up with holes in her shoes suffered no such nonsense.
She would swat away excuses like flies.
The idea of giving more to someone who doesn’t take care of it was absurd, be it an ungrateful child or an ungrateful nation.
“If you don’t take care of what you have, why would I give you MORE?”
You tell ‘em, mom.