When I first began blogging in 2005 my posts were very negative. Basically, I complained just about
everything. I called my blog "Loose Cannon" after a name that was given to me when I worked at Fidelity Bank in Philadelphia on a research project. I was referred as a "loose cannon" because I tended to tell the truth and ignore the niceties. It didn't take me too long to find out that I didn't have too many friends with this attitude at work. When I wrote my blog of complaints the only responses I got were from people who were even darker than I was. Thus, I decided to write an upbeat, positive blog. For the most part I have been successful but sometimes I do find it very difficult to hold back. Today I will try to explain the constant, underlying bitterness I continue to have in my personality. A bitterness that I have been somewhat successful in suppressing most of my life. But sometimes this bitterness bubbles to the surface. Today is one of those days.
I grew up in the Fifties in the small town of 5,000 people located 37 miles west of Philadelphia, PA. It was my fortune (or misfortune, it all depends on your outlook) to be born gay. Yes, I was "born gay." At no point did I select a life of discrimination, rejection, mockery, and discounting. I've never regretted being born gay. Too me it has always seemed perfectly natural for me to be gay. The only thing I thought was wrong was the way some people looked at or treated gay people. The problem always seemed to be their problem, not mine.
I was also born very poor. Our family was one step above abject poverty. We weren't even "lower middle class." Some would call us poor white trash but I'm too polite to say that. Of course I realize that many families in the Fifties were poor like our family. I don't remember our poorness being a big problem at that time but I was aware that our family didn't have what some of my schoolmates' families had. I do remember not having enough to eat but we weren't starving either.
I never received an allowance like many of my schoolmates. If I wanted money I had to work. I did not resent working, it was just a fact if life. My earliest job was running errands to the local grocery store for my relatives who lived in the same apartment building on Washington Avenue that we lived in. Occasionally I ran errands for the neighbors too. If I wanted money, I earned it. Nothing was given.
In third grade I got a job as a paper boy. I delivered the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin as well as some local papers. I delivered the papers every day after work and on Sunday morning. I loved that job. I was my own businessman. I had my bike (a Flyer), my newspaper back which I would fill with 60 or so copies of the Bulletin (and about 12 copies of the local paper) and I would be off after school to deliver papers to my customers. Early on I discovered customer service. I put all the newspapers I delivered in between the storm door and main door of my customers or under their mat. I never bundled up the paper and threw it from my bicycle. No one told me to do this, I just thought it was the right thing to do. I immediately received positive feedback from most of my customers. They appreciated the fact that they didn't have to look for their newspapers on a wet lawn or under a bush, or even worse, out in the road. Several of my customers showed their appreciation by giving me generous tips when I made my weekly stop for collection at their front door (my first direct customer contact.)
I delivered papers until I was in ninth grade, at which time I figured I was too old to be riding a bike (a silting thought now that I look back upon it.) For several years when I was a paperboy, I also had other jobs. I cleaned offices (at .55 cents an hour) and I had a weekend job at the local farmers' market in a butcher shop (at $12 a night.) In between I cut grass for several customers. In other words, I always worked. Any money I had I earned. Nothing was given to me.
When I entered 9th grade it was time to choose our high school course to prepare us for our lifetime career. Most of my friends were taking the college preparatory course which was the academic course. I wanted to take the academic course too but I was told by my Mother that she and my father would not be paying for my college. She suggested that I take typing and learn skills that would get me a job right out of high school. Of course I was very disappointed because I would not be spending my formative high school years with my friends but I accepted this fact just the way I accepted the fact that I would always have got work for my money. There was no question of me trying to get a scholarship because although my grades were good (mostly B's and a few A's and a scattering of C's), I didn't possess enough self-confidence at that time to embark on that journey.
I was envious of my friends whose parents took it for granted that, of course, they would send them to college. These are the same parents who regularly took their children on vacations. They provided their children with allowances and opened doors for them. Now of course I realize that many of my contemporaries were in the same situation as I was and more than a few had it worse. But I am writing from my own experience and how my resentment over some things that parents take for granted has come to build over the years and has never left me.
As I said earlier, I have been mostly successful in suppressing my resentment of Those That Have but sometimes it comes bubbling to the surface.
Thank goodness I never had the Helicopter Parents. I was on my own. I had a father who was disengaged and not really interested in what his three sons did. In fact my most remembered quote from him is "I have the there dumbest kids ever!" and the sweeping look of total disgust that would accompany that statement. Usually that statement was punctuated by a box on the ears which we learned not to duck. My brothers laugh about it now but when you're brought up like that, you tend to believe what your father tells you. I know I did. I thought I was a dumb, big nosed, stupid, sissy for most of my childhood and teenage years. My father's favorite nickname for me was "Beak" (as in a big nosed bird.) It wasn't until I graduated from high school and joined the Army (after having almost lost my life to a staph infection from an operation that I had to have before I could join the Army) that I realized that I wasn't the stupidest, ugliest, and clumsiest kid in Downingtown. In fact, I wasn't all that bad looking (at the right angle) and even half way smart some of the time. However, that lingering sense of lack of self-worth has and always will be in my personality. And added to that was the extra burden of being a homosexual, which at that time was against the law. There was always that cloud hanging over my head of being exposed as one of those dirty perverts who was the lowest form of animal life.
I will write more on this subject in future blog postings but I felt the need to get some of this information out there now. What brought it up is the usual two things. The lament of some parents in this tough economic time that they "HAVE to send their kids to college", with the suggestion that the government somehow should help them "send their kids to college." Hey, my parents didn't send me to college. I went to college only after donating three years of my time in the Army and the going to night school three night a week for four years. I worked at the bank in center city Philadelphia during the day (at Broad and Chestnut Streets) then walked up Broad Street to Broad and Spruce to Peirce Junior College for classes that started at 6 pm and ended at 9 pm. For three years I had plenty of long days. There was no time for me at the local Whiffenpoof watering hole to kick back and "have a few" with my friends.
One thing that really rankled my resentment growing up as a barefoot kid in the poor white section of a small town, was the summer camp nearby where the city of Philadelphia used to ship the fortunate "poor" kids of Philadelphia so they could spend six weeks of summer fun camping and swimming at the swimming pool at the camp in Downingtown. One summer my brothers and I snuck to the cyclone fence surrounding the camp and looked in envy at the swimming pool. Oh how we would have liked top taken a dip in those cool waters on a hot summer day. But it was not to be. That pool was reserved for the "poor, underprivileged" of Philadelphia. The first time in my life I ever stepped into a swimming pool was when I was in the Army. I was 20 years old. It's not that my brothers and I never went swimming. Sometimes our father would treat us to a run at the swimming hole on Boot Road if we weeded our assigned eight rows of corn. Our father loved to garden but he didn't like to weed. That's what he had three sons for. No complaints about the swimming hole. My brothers and I (and the family dog Sam) had a wonderful time there the few times we were given this "treat" which was following by a visit to the Tastee Freeze in Thorndale. We loved that treat. Sometimes, when Pop was really feeling good, and after we picked a bunch of wild raspberries, he would take us to a gas station on Rt. 322 which served ice cream. I would get a double scoop of black raspberry ice cream. It just didn't get any better than that on a hot, humid, August summer night in Downingtown, PA. When we played in the summertime we played at the railroad tracks behind our apartment on 120 Washington Avenue. Not for us summer camp and all those activities. Thus, every summer when the "poor kids" from Philadelphia were bussed in, that familiar feeling of resentment rose up in me.
I'm glad I was brought up the way I was brought up. Even though my father didn't provide any encouragement for me or my brothers, I think that circumstance made my brothers and I stronger. Probably much of that credit has to go to my Mother who, while never providing the hugs (she never was a "huggy" person), always protected us and provided guidance for her three boys which has done us well to this day. However, she did make a remark some years ago which took me aback. She said to me "You know one thing I'm really proud of my boys?" I said "What's that Mom?" She said "I'm glad none of you ever ended up in prison." Well, that was a jaw opener. Sometimes you think you know your Mom and you would assume she knows you. No Mom, none of us ever ended up in prison nor would we ever. Poor we were for sure. No allowances, summer camp, boy scouts or college for "your boys" but you raised us right. We all turned out to be honest and hard working and two of us worked our way through college to get our degrees. No regrets here about how we were raised. But I still have a tinge of resentment every time I hear "How am I going to send my kid to college?" Hey, here's a novel idea. Let him (or her) work their way through college like we did. It will be good for them. They'll appreciate life more just like my brothers and I appreciate where we are now, even though that tinge of resentment will always be there.