February 23, 2011
The Rich and Famous, Right?
Though this is the Hamptons, the fact is there are a lot of poor people around here. It seems like an oxymoron, but its true – this is the epicenter of opulence and wealth, and we have people who live here who are obscenely rich – people with billions of dollars more than the average person can even grasp. It would seem that if a few of these people simply redirected the money they give to charities to the folks struggling to survive out here there wouldn't be any poverty. If only to wish would make it so.
I know poverty. I grew up poor. Ma and Pa had nothin exceptin us kids, all nine of us. I was the baby but I can assure you I grew up fast.
I dint know what hand-me-downs were. Buster, my oldest brother, got my dad's clothes when he wore 'em out. Festis, the next oldest, got 'em from Buster. And so it went. Me? I had rags, handkerchiefs, napkins, bandages. In skool they called me "Ragdoll." I can remember my Ma rocking me on her lap and singing softly to me:
"Little Rag doll
My little rag doll
I love you so
I can't let you go."
She'd rock me until she fell asleep, then she would let me go and I'd drop to the floor.
Being poor dint stop me. I was determined to get an education. I walked eight miles every morning to school through two feet of snow – and that was during the summer. At first I had plastic garbage bags around my bare feet, but we ran out. Then I wrapped them with plastic wrap, but we ran out. Then I put sandwich bags on them. Finally, I only had snack bags, just big enough for my pinky toe. I never complained, though, even after the Green Rot set in. After the surgery kids took to callin me "Pu-Tate." I thought it was my Rap name. My motto was, "Keep on Limpin on."
We dint have much money, and what little we had Pa drank up. Ma did what she could, workin down at the factory 12 hours, then cleanin peoples houses, then going over to the funeral home and fixin the hair on dead people. Once she was putting waves in the hair of a corpse when the woman jumped up. Turned out it was Granny Melton, the funeral director's grandma who had fallen asleep downstairs in the parlor. Sure gave Ma a terrible fright.
My allowance was one cent a decade. Once I bought a piece of bubble gum and Ma yelled, "Ya damn fool! Now yewl have no money for nine years and 363 days!" I realize now if I invested that money instead of wastin it on gum I'd have an oceanfront mansion and all the money I would need. If yer askin me would I give some of it to the poor people, the answer is your damn right I would. Thas how we was brung up.
Ma always said the family should always share our evening meal together, even when Pa was away on business with Mr. Seagram or Uncle Jack. We dint have much, but we were grateful fer what we had. Ma used to grind up worms and fry 'em in flour. She told us it was calamari 'cept it tasted better. We used to have parsley soup and man, that was good, big bowls of boiling hot water ummm ummm. "Save some fer yer bath!" Ma would yell good-naturedly.
Mom made salad out of the weeds in the yard. Now its called mesclun salad and the rich folks in the Hamptons pay $6.99 a pound fer it! And they think we dumb!
Sometimes when Pa was sober he'd catch a squirrel or a coon and Ma would make the fixins for a stew. But more often than not Pa would sell the thang for some hootch so that was that.
I made it through grade skool, almost. Then I got a job pumpin gas at Old Doc Harding's station. Old Doc werent a doctor – he got his nickname because he spent 10 years in the state prison fer giving girls physicals when he was workin at the skool garage.
I learnt about automobiles, how to keep em runnin. Pretty soon, the rich folk were coming around with their German cars and their English cars. One day Old Doc Harding went into the closet to git somethin and never come out. Next thing ya know it was my service station.
Pa done drunk himself to death before he hit 40. Buster, too. Festis is in the state pen. Bobby Ray fulfilled his dream of becoming a pornographer. Hassie and the girls still live with Ma in the shack. I bought them a radio -- ma always wanted one -- but it got no antenna so, no stations come in. Ma likes to sing along to the static, though.
I got my own house now. I keep a room upstairs filled with all the stuff I ever wanted as a kid – comic books, bubble gum, marbles, roller skates, baseballs, and Suzie Carson's ring finger.
I gotta bunch of kids who call me "pa." That's what I think it's all about. The little ones. Seems to me the poor ones is every bit as purty as the rich ones. Seems only right theys all should have a decent place to live and some hot grub to eat. After all, this is the Hamptons, right?
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