When you grow up poor, or faux poor, as my family was, Not being poor is at the forefront of all decisions. Poor people buy the majority of lottery tickets, out of a deep longing to experience abundance.$10 in lottery tickets buys an hour of life where John can get that shoulder surgery and take 6 months off to recover, and your daughter can get some orthodontist work that can help alleviate the underbite caused by poor nutrition in utero and we can buy a house with a yard where the kids can run without fear of cars. Those $10 dollars buys temporary relief from the problems that money can solve.
When I was 12, my sister and I cleaned house for the daughter of a junk yard owner. This kind woman, a former pastry chef and current recycling coordinator of our town, could see value in everything and loved to cook. Her house was stuffed to the gills and every surface area was stacked with dirty dishes and spilt food. Her delightful librarian husband looked on housework like a foreign concept, the house suffered. A regular house cleaner would not take this job. It required a certain kind of understanding of deep clutter and dirt, something that my upbringing in a family of 9 with 10 inside pets had prepared me. The first day we spent 4 hours just in their 4-year-old daughter’s room, who had a clothes rack that spanned an entire wall and was so packed with clothes, that even if the hanger lost touch with the rod, the clothing held fast by tension. In the 12 worked hours of 3 people for four hours, for our employer worked along side us, we got one room of their house done, exposed and cleaned the floor, removed 4 boxes of toys and 2 trash bags of clothes and created a space that a child would like to play. We were paid $12 an hour to do this work, more than twice what I made babysitting two children. And the $48 dollars cash that we pocketed felt like a fortune.
We took ourselves out for lunch at the Dillion’s grocery store salad bar, vegetarian heaven. It was like going shopping and buying absolutely anything I wanted, in miniature. We both loved salad, and as we were raised vegetarians, a restaurant’s meat-based menu could not compare to the decadence of the salad bar. Mixed greens and baby spinach created the base, no iceberg blandness on this salad, please! We adored all manner of pickled briny things, but they only ever made an appearance on holidays at our house, being outside the budget of regular grocery shopping. Loading my aluminum clam shell with 4 or 5 quartered marinated artichokes was like ordering an expensive bottle of wine with dinner. A dusting of grated carrots, cucumbers with a decorative striped peel, mixed red and green bell peppers reminding us of Christmas, black olives, and even a couple of the Spanish green ones, just because I could, even though I didn’t like them as much. A small scoop of potato salad in the corner next to a sprinkle of cheese. Adding several anemic looking cherry tomatoes was a gamble, but I loved tomatoes almost as much as pickles, even though biting into one that exploded rotten juices into my mouth caused me deep feelings of betrayal. Ranch dressing topped the mass that was then sprinkled with sunflower seeds and tiny seasoned croutons. I would cringe when I laid my laden container on the scale- the salad would cost almost an hour’s worth of hard physical dirty work and felt like the richest meal we ever ate.