My dad grew up poor, dirt poor, poorer than dirt, maybe middle of the earth molten lava type poor. He was born during the Great Depression, the son of a plumber and a nurse in Charleston, SC. The Holy City, as locals call it, had still not recovered from the “Late Unpleasantness.” For you Yankees or foreigners, that’s Southern speak for the Civil War. There was little money to be had and even less opportunity for any kind of advancement.
My Papa, (pronounced paa paa- like what a sheep says except with a p; that’s Charlestonese for grandpa), was not a very good plumber. In fact, I think he hated every minute of it. My father was his right hand man on most jobs and Papa dubbed him “Colonel Brokem” because apparently all he did was break shit. They didn’t always have enough to eat and sometimes my dad would sneak over to the Star Gospel Mission (run by those heathen Prodestants) for a free meal. He was poor, but he wasn’t stupid. Well, apparently, that never sat well with my Irish Catholic Papa because if he found out, Dad would get an ass whooping like nobody’s business.
My Mama (again pronounced like what a sheep says; Charlestonese for grandma), hated being a nurse. She graduated first in her class from nursing school, despite the fact that she had smacked the head nun in the face at some point, according to family lore. I think Mama (not yo’ mama- remember like baa baa) and I must have had a lot in common, because I often find myself wanting to smack people across the face. To date, I can report I’ve been mostly successful at refraining from doing so, mostly. Anyway, my Papa used to say that the only part Mama liked about being a nurse was pulling the sheet up over a person’s face. That means they were dead and she could go home. I always like getting off work early too.
So like I said, they were poor and like all parents Papa wanted a better life for his children. He knew the way to a better life for my father was to go to college. At that time, all you needed to get into the local municipal college was a recommendation from your high school principal. Being good Catholics, my father had spent his entire educational career in the parochial system; being beat up by nuns and told how he was going to hell for even thinking about anything at all.
On a side note, he has always insisted that that was the main reason he made sure we did not go to Catholic school. Although, I’m pretty sure it was more the fact that you actually had to pay for it when we were coming up, and the man was thrifty. Okay, thrifty is too nice a word, let’s just tell it like it is, he was cheap.
Anyway, as senior year came to a close my Papa marched my father over to Father Manning’s office to request a recommendation for college. Apparently, not only was my father good at breaking shit at home, but he also had a reputation for being down right stupid at school. Father Manning told my Papa that he would not write a recommendation for my dear old dad because he was too stupid for college and suggested Papa continue training him in the plumbing trade. God bless my Papa, because he insisted on the recommendation on the grounds that my father had to go to college because he was too stupid to be a plumber. Remember this was the early 1950’s and really nobody gave a shit about your self esteem or crap like that. Sometimes, I think we all need to be a little more frank about shit like this- honestly, telling people the truth can be all the motivation they need to stop acting like a complete asshole.
In my dad’s defense, he went on to be a commissioned officer in the Navy, a high ranking government official and traveled the world has a high paid bullshit consultant. So, for being so “stupid”, he did pretty good for himself.
My father made all of us painfully aware of his poor upbringing to make sure that we were thankful for every single cent he ever spent on us. He never understood the fact that teenage girl’s needed to have the “right clothes” and try to “fit in” for their mental wellbeing. All he could see were dollar signs. He constantly behaved as if we were two pennies away from the poor house and as he said about EVERYTHING…”if we buy that we’re going to lose the house!” Really, we’re going to LOSE THE HOUSE, because you won’t buck up an extra $20??
I remember one time I needed a pair of sneakers, so he decided Sam’s Club would be the perfect place to go buy my new kicks. I don’t know if you’ve ever been shoe shopping at Sam’s, but shoe selection is not their strong suit. If you’re in the market for giant industrial tubs of peanut butter or huge bags of rice that could feed all the people in China then they’ve got your back, but shoes, not so much.
I ended up with the dorkiest, ugliest, off brand sneaks you’ve ever laid your eyes on and I cried in the line to pay for them, I cried on the way home and I cried every time I had to wear those stupid sneakers. And did my father care that I didn’t like these shoes? Not one iota.
In college, cell phones were in their infancy. My very best friend and roommate was the daughter of a highly successful urologist. And therefore in my opinion- RICH!! She had one of those fancy cell phones. Now for those of you that are under the age of 30- you may not know this….but cell phones didn’t always fit in your pocket. No, hers was in a giant leather bag that you had to carry around with you and plug into the car every time you wanted to use. Have you ever seen those old war movies, where the army guys in the heat of battle would call into their COs on the giant wind up phone? Yep, it was pretty much like that. Oh, how I envied that bag phone. I vowed then and there that I knew I would be successful in life when I was able to buy my very own bag phone! Even though, I’ve now got my nice little smartphone that lets me do a billion more things than that bag phone, I’m still yearning a bit for the posh notoriety that came with carrying that giant bag.
Anyhoo, I decided I couldn’t wait until I could buy one for myself. So I put together the pitch to my father on why it was so important for me to have a “car phone”. Yes, back in the olden days we didn’t even call them “cell phones”, they were “car phones” because of course the only time you’d need to use it was inside your car.
The pitch included all the important talking points: safety, safety and of course safety. I didn’t dare mention the word “cool” in the pitch at all. I knew very well that my father did not give a shit whether we were cool or not. But, as you can guess, the pitch went no where. It started out, “Dad I’ve been thinking I need to get a car phone…..” end of conversation. He just completely freaked out and said, his favorite retort for everything I’ve ever asked for, “No! What do you need that for? We’re not the fucking Rockefellers!”
So, no, I did not get my car phone and am fully aware that I am in no way or will ever be a Rockefeller.