Who Says I’m Not Rich?

By Susan DeBow

Who Says I’m Not Rich?

My husband feels like a failure because we haven’t won the lottery. Every other day, usually in the morning, he will say, “Well, we didn’t win the lottery last night.” He’ll then sigh and sulk for the next few minutes. I have to reassure him that I love him and tell him not to take the lottery so personally.

Geeze.

When we were first married we lived in a trailer outside Athens, Ohio, the home of Ohio University, the school we both attended. He was a senior. I was a junior. We had no money – or at least, very little. Still, we didn’t realize we were poor. We had no idea we would qualify for government anything. As far as we knew, we weren’t poor; we just didn’t have any money.

For fun, we would head uptown, to the parking lots, and walk around the meters, looking for coins people had dropped – pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters. Although they had dropped from the hands of people, they were like gifts of God. To find a quarter was big-time!

To have a couple of dollars in my purse was to feel as wealthy as J.K. Rowling. But to have that couple of dollars was rare. We were college students. We were supposed to be broke.

Nick worked as a cook at a pizza joint. At night I would be alone in our trailer sitting on the Herculean couch I had sewn. (Yes, sewn. A UPS truck delivered huge boxes of stuffing. The couch sat about a foot off the floor.) My company was a Chihuahua named Hector we got from my uncle. Hector loved to burrow himself inside my shirt, turn himself around and stick his head out the top of my shirt. We were twins, though not identical.

After an evening full of watching The Streets of San Francisco, To Tell the Truth, and Dallas, I’d wait to hear the back door of the trailer open. If I was really lucky, I would hear Nick say the magic words, “I brought you a pizza.” When he said that, I thought I was the luckiest person in the world. What was money? I had pizza. A beauty of a pizza, loaded with pepperoni, sausage, ham and lots of cheese.

For fun, Nick and I would go fishing. Worms were cheap. Of course, I wouldn’t touch them. Nick baited my hook and removed the myriad of bluegill I caught. A huge treat was buying the Sunday newspaper and taking it to a park to read it. Gas was a quarter a gallon. The trailer we lived in had been abandoned. My mother-in-law loaned us $2500.00 to purchase it. Rent for the trailer park lot was $35.00 per month which included water and cable.

Our social life consisted of playing Hearts and Spades with another couple, Becky and Toby, who were from tiny towns in southwest Ohio. They would come to our trailer, and we would sit at our little kitchen table and play cards, drink Stroh’s beer and laugh until we were sick. Becky had large blue eyes and long brown hair. She was everything I was not – short, petite, manicured, flirty. I was tall, long-legged, bit my fingernails, and my idea of flirting was flicking a guy in the arm like people flick a fly off their arm.

Becky and Toby married, but later divorced.

After college, the children came: Four of them. We weren’t like many of today’s couples, who both work for a while before they have kids, planning for their financial future. Financially, we have most always punted. We have robbed Peter to pay Paul. We have used Christmas cash, given to us by our parents, to buy diapers, make car payments or pay for whatever needed paying.

One time, Nick, wanting to give me a nice birthday, especially the flower-covered bakery cake, sold some of the silver dollars his mother, who worked at a bank, had given him when he was young. I didn’t stop him. I really wanted that cake.

When our kids wanted to go to sports camp, play a trumpet or go to a private high school, we found the money. By then, both my husband and I worked. At one point, when my husband’s car died, slowly, I had enough money in my “secret” account, which everyone knew about, to pay $3200.00 for my neighbor’s mini-van. I felt like I was Rockefeller.

Our sons drove “beasts.” For them to get to their private school, one of the boys would have to bobsled the ancient Volkswagen Rabbit diesel down the driveway. One would push and hop in while the other popped the clutch. Then there was the 1982 diesel van that weighed over 4,000 pounds with a lawn mower engine. The boys drove that. It was called the “Hoopymobile” and was quite well known around town. It burned to death in the parking lot of our son’s dorm in Helena, Montana. Our son said a ghost did it.

Our finances changed again after I called my husband one day at work and told him I had quit my job as head of an accounting software company. I was going to be a writer, I told him. After having seven people in my family die within a year and a half, I felt called. And though I have had what many writers would consider a successful career, I haven’t made a lot of money. Never hit the writing lottery.

That was over twelve years ago. Since then, our finances have run the gamut. We have become grandparents five times; we have faced my husband’s cancer and our daughter’s illness. We forged dysfunctional relationships with credit cards and forgot what paying cash was. We have worried ourselves out of sleep.

We have also paid every debt we have owed. Or are in the process of doing so. When people mention, for whatever reason, that they have their house paid off, I sigh. And along with my husband, wish we could win the lottery.

There are those that would look at our house and cars and clothes and think we were rich. Others would think we were poor. I guess that makes us pretty middle class.

But through all of our financial ups and downs, when cash was tight or when cash was in hand, I have never felt “poor.” Broke? Yes. Poor? No.

One of our sons called from France the other day. He and his wife were there celebrating their tenth anniversary. Our other son can’t wait until we come down to South Carolina to visit. Our one daughter brought her new boyfriend to our house for dinner the other night, seeming proud to introduce him to our good cooking. And our youngest daughter, who has had her battles with learning how to live, started her new job recently. Our five grandchildren are healthy and hilarious. And my husband is now four years out from stage three colon cancer.

How can I not feel rich? How do you place dollar signs on any of that?

Could we use more money? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.”

But are we poor?

Are you kidding? I have a life of abundance. An abundance of love, curiosity, friendship, a large bathtub, a comfy bed and a garden full of ripe tomatoes. The way I see it, life doesn’t get better than this.

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at www.ohiowritergirl.com If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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One Response to “Who Says I’m Not Rich?”

  1. Juhi Basoya says:

    Dear Susan,

    Loved your article. It’s just the thing to knock some spirit into you when you are in the “poor me”mode :) You are so right. Best things in life are FREE, no dollar marks attached. And if they have dollar marks, they simply aren’t the best.

    Regards,
    Juhi

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