I grew up “dirt poor” on a farm in western Oklahoma in the 1950s. Most of my clothes were handmade by my mother or hand-me-downs, except for the jeans we worked in. Nearly all our food was raised on our farm and cooked from scratch. Socks and underwear were Christmas presents, as well as fruit and nut baskets from our local church. Toys were made from bricks, sticks, and other random items we managed to lay our hands on around the property. We had no indoor bathroom and went fifty feet to an outhouse in rain, sleet, or sunshine. The wood stove in the kitchen warmed the house in winter and heated all water for bathing or washing dishes. I could go on about what we didn’t have, but I would really like to tell you about what we did have.
Being poor is neither lamentable nor virtuous. It just is a condition of having less than those who have more. It is only destructive if the person is so impoverished as to lack the very basic needs for survival: food, protective clothing, and shelter from the elements. The real poverty that destroys lives is not a lack of monetary assets but a lack of nurturing. It affects those with monetary wealth as surely as those with not much more than “a pot to piss in.”
Though I was raised poor, I did have riches that only caring family and community members could provide. My parents cared deeply for me and my brothers. We knew it in our bones, especially when we were being punished evenhandedly for our wrongdoing. My loving mother provided comfort when life was tough. My father was not openly affectionate but showed his caring by his actions. Aunts, uncles, neighbors, and community members all showed caring and support in various ways. The environment I grew up in instilled values I hold closely today.
No matter the financial or material conditions of your upbringing, if you do not have the emotional support or spiritual riches required, you will find climbing to adulthood a very steep hill. Unfortunately, many succumb to this hardship of spirit and continue through life, spreading despair and turmoil in their wake, affecting the lives of others.
It is important that we, the fortunate, understand that poverty, in the ordinary sense of the word, is not the life-altering problem many would have us believe. It is the life bereft of kindness, love, consideration, and respect that is the source of misery we see suffered by many in our society.
It’s easy to throw money at a problem and then complain that it didn’t solve the underlying situation. Money can help in some cases but works best if it is accompanied by personal involvement and support from the community.
Since I have become involved with the people of Ennis, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a tremendous amount of caring and personal involvement by its citizens. It reminds me a great deal of the community where I grew up. I’m continually amazed at the level of caring commitment to the community and determination to help others by the leadership, civic organizations, and everyday folks in this town. If I only listened to national or international news, I would have plenty of reason to despair. I look to family, friends, and the community where I live for optimism and inspiration. Thank you, Ennis, for being a beacon of hope for the future and a joy in my life