Sunday, March 1, 2015

Living Next Door to the Country Club

I wrote this essay some years ago, in a senior center memoir writing class that allowed disabled people in it.  It was the year my husband's first lay-offs had occurred before we moved here. While the elderly people fondly remembered good times on the farm and grandchildren, there I was, just starting to process my crazy childhood and life. Hopefully my essays didn't shock them. I have added a few corrections here.

I was raised to marry into wealth. My mother had escaped her hardscrabble farm kid's lifestyle and had escaped to a big city by the age of 19. Poverty suffered as a child is easier then as an adult. At least when you are a kid, it's not your fault.

So while I would be an adult of currency exchanges, Save-A-Lots, scrimping every penny and living in fear of ghetto criminals, shopping was a fun hobby to my parents, the overpriced mall a center of delights. I grew up among Ethan Allen furniture, private school education, vacations and in high school lived on what was considered the richest street in town. Thank goodness, I had no idea what would await me as adulthood beckoned.

My parents lived on a near six figure income by the late 1970s and I grew up clueless. I had no idea what a sirloin steak really cost, my mother would fill 2-3 grocery carts full should relatives visit from out of town and think nothing of it. I didn't realize that a 5 course dinner could sent you back forty dollars. I grew up in a house that if the Russians had bombed, there would be food for a year. Today towards the end of every month my fridge is absolutely barren.

                                   this isn't my mother's collection this is a normal sized one.

Money was wasted on strange things. Thousands of dollars on china figurines was spent freely. One day I entered my mother's living room during a warmer December day to see at least three-five thousand glass snowmen of various kinds standing like a snowman army. My eyes bugged out as I calculated how much money she had probably spent on the endless variations of clay, porcelain and fabric Frosties. There had to be at least $30,000 dollars invested in this particular shopping spree. My mother should have bought stock in Hallmark.

For my father there were car parts to be refurbished in the garage, and entire "muscle" car in one side of the garage to be redone, and endless gadgets and tools. He had everything from an air compressor, two or three riding mowers and endless construction and house re-modeling items.

I was no spoiled kid, as I actually got goaded by the other high school kids for living in a 6 bedroom house next door to the only country club in town. While the neighborhood kids went on constant vacations, and got to play golf, we never joined. Everything was about keeping up with the Joneses, model households, "work til you drop, children or not. Today several family member's houses look like untouched museums and the houses you see in magazines. While I would get a decent number of Christmas gifts for good pictures, I didn't dress like a rich kid. I was befriending the kids who lived in the projects and the working class neighborhoods nearer to my school. My mother didn't buy me very many clothes and when you show up in high school wearing the same 2-3 outfits over and over, it establishes your social rank more then your parent's address.

The rich kids of my neighborhood rejected the whole lot of us, my family didn't realize that farmer's daughter and that a man with an New Jersey accent who cussed his head off in a Honeymooner's a la violent Fred Flintstone fashion don't quite fit into some upper class enclaves no matter the pretensions made. If anything after the neighbors called the cops, on my Dad cussing his head off so loudly they covered their children's ears, we were forbidden to play with the rest of the neighborhood teens. They avoided us like the plague. One popular girl fled my house during her first visit, when my father stomped up the stairs screaming about some lost papers and throwing things. She was petrified. At least she could run away, I was stuck!

My family never had heard of women's rights. While I was a good student, having free laborers came first. I still remember 10-14 hour workdays, scrubbing, polishing and dusting the 3,500 square foot house we lived in. Cinderella just wasn't a fairy tale. Before anyone says, "Quit yer whining all kids have to do chores!" This was a labor camp with a mean drill sergeant by your side. Perfectionists out of the gates of hell--Mommy Dearest and Daddy Dearest nightmares that made Joan Crawford's whining about the wire hangers and chopping down the tree in the backyard a slight tiff. No one would ever realize there are 5,000 ways to rake leaves the wrong way or even fathom that a rake had to be held the right way. I would grow up with a lifelong distaste for housework and yard work.

As college rolled around, my father kept threatening to throw us out on our ear by the age of 18. Having a father who won a full-4 year ride to university due to extreme math skills I did not inherit meant as a normal kid, you were simply resented. I worked 30 hours a week, my last two years of high school in restaurants as a salad and prep- cook. I used to hoard money like a fiend. The irony would occur to me years later. At one point in late high school, I had the greatest amount saved in the bank that I would have for the rest of my life which was $5,000. College and payment on my first car soaked it up like a sponge.

Things got only worse, in college, I in youthful idealism chose art education as a major not realizing it would sink me into future poverty. Some people make that one bad decision that turns their life on the dime towards the bad. For some it's getting pregnant as a teen, dropping out of school, doing drugs. This was mine 3.4 grade point average or not. I was good at art and actually a very good art teacher in the few years I got to work in it. The subject of art had served as my escape for survival. It was not only an interest but a vocation, but sadly my declining health blocked me from the good teaching jobs.

My parents hated what I stood for. The money I got for help to get through college was paid for with as pound of flesh attached even as I worked my way through college in the dorm cafeterias. I was called an evil hippie and a prima donna because I wanted a state school education and wanted to be a high school art teacher. One would think I wanted to run away and join the circus or had become a prostitute by the reaction of my father to my choice of a future career. He even tried to get me to join the convent and got angry when I refused, saying they would pay for my college.

No one warned me of how hard it was to make a living. No one told me that young adults could struggle. No one told me or prepared me for the fact that life may brings struggle or turmoil. With parents who could indulge in immediate gratification, what did I know? My mother who had no college even got a $40,000 a year job via my father who gave it to her. No one told me how to write a check, or how to budget or that the wrong step could lead to years of poverty. No one told me that things had drastically changed since the Baby Boomers made their first steps out of college. There were losers and winners and the winners had money.

By age 22, even with a part-time $14.00 an hour art teaching job and then making the decision to go back to school for a paralegal degree, I was considered a wash-up by my family. The summer I graduated from college, my 20 year old sister was marrying the ex mayor of a big city's son. She never would have to worry about living out of milk crates or struggling to pay bills. My parents would tell me, "Why can't you be more like your sister?". She went to community college and met her husband right after high school graduation. She has never lived on her own and went right from her twin bed covered in Garfield sheets with stuffed animals on top to her suburban housewife bliss. I wondered if the marriage was arranged since she never dated in high school, went from zero to 60 and they both treated each other like they were entering a business partnership instead of showing normal love behavior like kissing and hugging one another.

My sister had reached the pinnacle of success in my parents eyes by being engaged at age 19. My college graduation was ignored and neither parent showed up. One of my friends drove me to my college graduation. I would be stuck living at home for a year paying a small amount of rent and saving money for my great escape into my first no contact.

The years then came where as an adult, I would visit my mother's house with the perfect rooms, with one room of new furniture equaling a year's salary for me and my husband. Two doors down from multimillionaires, she added onto the house, and remodeled to her heart's content. After my father died, the insurance pay-offs made her even wealthier and more self satisfied. She has no idea what my day to day life is like. She doesn't know what life without money is like. The glass snowmen stand on patrol every winter with their empty eyes surveying the suburban landscape.

See:  Money, Snobs and Narcissists


  1. What is it about narcs? On so many levels they're dumber than dirt, more shallow than the little splash pond at the public pool, and, well, just f---ing weird. My Nparents AND N-Laws treated their houses like museums; still do for all I know. My step momster kept the nicest room, the main living room in our house (in the upscale neighborhood) off limits to everyone - even daddy. If she so much as noticed a foot print on the plush carpet there would be hell to pay. What's funny (I guess) is as the GC half-siblings got older, they'd run through mummy's show room just to piss her off. She eventually acceded by opening the room, grudgingly, to the rest of us. I never set foot in it, regardless. I spent my teenage years living in the most upscale neighborhood in our city, yet Nparents were so house broke we ate as if we lived on the streets. Beans and weenies, chicken chow mien in a can, and this nasty fish called turbot that I never see in the grocery store - perhaps the FDA banned it? The guys in the coast guard used to look at me like I was an alien at meal time because I loved the food they served, and they all hated it. My wife's Nparent's abode looks more sterile than any hospital I've ever been in. Oh, and mother N law had her little, off-limits show room as well; kept her creepy doll collection in it. I could go on and on....what you wrote (all those years ago - LOL) about chores really struck a chord. Narcs are weird little people.

  2. Oh they are weird. Seeing all those snowmen floored me. My and my husband's mouths dropped when we saw that display and consider this it was packed away every holiday season and put back. I am not sure if she still has the snowmen, this was around 2005/6 when we saw them. She may have got rid of them after the move to Florida. I suppose it would be equal to your mother N law's creepy doll collection. Maybe it was like her pretend Army. Mine did weird house decorating projects with fake fences and even spent a huge amount of money to get this old broken down wagon from the 1800s and put it in front of her house. It seemed strange. I felt like the house was overall supposed to be a stage show. Mini-Me and my N mother both keep their houses immaculate. When I visited Mini-Me's house 12 years ago she instructed me that I was to wipe out her sink to prevent water spots after every use. Thank God I was staying at a hotel room.

    I relate to the off limits parlors, there is one huge living room I noticed my sister never allowed her children in with fancy pieces of furniture. My mother had living rooms like this to we were only allowed to sit in during special occasions as children. Yes, no foot prints on the plush carpet, and if you vacuumed the lines had to be straight. Oh with the 3,000 plus square foot house, my parents were mortgaged to the hilt and even with a 6 figure income in debt to their eyeballs. They actually sold this house and moved into a smaller one, my mother still lives in today but actually it's the same size as the old big house since she got money to add on to it.


    1. I suppose I was lucky they still bought some ok food, but mine did more the portioning out thing--she would count pieces of lunch meat and food servings. I feel for you having to eat the turbot, and beans and weenies. I tired of Cheerios every morning and bologna sandwiches on white bread and potatoe chips at lunch for 12 years of school and drooled over the school lunches the other kids got to buy. It's good you were used to the bad food.

      When I went away to college, the dorm cafeteria was like a Bonanza, I actually became the thinnest in my life--lost 80lbs in college to the low 200s, while being able to eat whatever I wanted when I wanted. I remember eating dinner at the juvenile home thinking this food is great, which the kids could not believe. Even Girl Scout camp food, that everyone else whined about, tasted good to me. It had more variety. So I can see how the Coast Guard food would be to you.

      I think of how much money my parents made--income I couldn't even dream of now, and how much was wasted on appearances and weirdness. I think narcs are very weird people too. I get the feeling they don't enjoy life very much even the ones with money, my narcs probably clean 8 hours a day if not more to keep their sterile environments maintained. Even now as poor as I am while I sometimes can envy the trips they get to take even those probably aren't any fun as everything is about keeping everything "perfect-looking". It's a life with little fun. Probably their brains are even over-loaded remembering all their lies.

  3. Money is weird with my FOO, too. The food and knick-knacks were similar, too. When my
    Mother started working and I became a latch-key kid, there was always money for my mother's latest collectible. Byers Carolers, Christopher Radko, Vaillancourt- always money for that. Grapes and coldcuts? Variety for
    the lunchbox? Clothes that weren't cheap
    and fit me properly Never. My mother was really critical of how much money I spent on groceries when she used to come visit. I suppose I was supposed to fill up on useless knock-knacks and neglect my kids needs so that it looked "showy". I will never understand or respect that mentality. -Kate

    1. I remember having only two pairs of pants to wear in high school so I was befriending the project kids, because I dressed like them. Our food was cheap too, I wanted to eat salad bar at school and the hot lunches but my parents would not let me, I was stuck with the bologna sandwich on white bread, bag of chips and three Chips Ahoy cookies for years. When I was 16 and working I could finally buy some food I wanted and even remember throwing away the lunch my mother gave me and buying a hot meal once in awhile--I was sick of the same thing. I was told by both narcs I spent too much on food and "eating out" and how dare I? They added in long distance phone calls to friends, according to these narcs you are not supposed to have anything. Yes I saw the literally thousands of dollars worth of knickknacks too and remember thinking something was wrong even at that time. I could tell from school that other parents were spending lots more money on their kids.

  4. i so relate. The other odd thing was that they spent all of this money on knickknack and home decor and then never wanted to have anyone over. Friends told me how uncomfortable it was being at my house. It was a showplace, but so unfriendly. -Kate