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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

What is poverty?

In the wake of the nation’s budget crisis, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown last night at the eleventh hour, my curiosity about our definition of poverty continues to be piqued. I was raised poor. The images of my family home in Indiana when I was growing up are seared into my memory. Nothing will ever erase them. I remember clearly sitting around a campfire in our front yard while Mom cooked something in a cast iron skillet over the fire. Our electricity had been turned off. That also meant we were using the hand pump at the well and the outhouse out back. Rusted, disabled autos (all either Studebakers or Packards) sat in the yard with weeds growing through the floorboards.

Left, 1954, the house was always "under construction" and even at 4 I did my part to "help." Right, 1959, my dog Buttercup in front. Can't for the life of me remember the name of the other dog.

I was shocked last year when I took my daughter to see the old family homestead to find that the property was grown over in beautiful, tall trees—all except an acre in the front where the house once stood. When we left Mishawaka in 1965, the property was condemned and “all sign of human habitation” was to be erased. Bulldozers moved in and cleaned things up.

2010, the property was cleared of everything and in the nearly 50 years since we left trees have grown up over most of it. I remember, however, planting the apple trees along the edge of the woods on the right.

I moved into a new world where my mother was a community leader. Even though my father worked at a filling station and our income was low, we lived in a house owned and maintained by the church, had adequate food and clothing, and a well-defined place in society (even if I was the new kid in school). In my head there was never a question about whether I would go to college. Even though my parents did not directly contribute to my education expenses, I could manage through scholarships and loans and jobs. I’d been working at one thing or another to earn money since I was 12.

Within two years out of college I was making five figures—more than my parents had ever earned in a year! I kept working for 40 years. Last year we  found out once again what it was like to be in a 0% tax bracket. But even so, we live a privileged life. When we leave our home, it won’t be condemned (barring natural disaster); nor, with the housing market the way it is will it provide that little nest-egg we thought it would. We have friends, family, and new books to publish. We have each other, and that is good.

And further good news is my daughter now qualifies for scholarships we didn’t know existed. Smile

This bit of nostalgia was brought to you by our 2010 Form 1040, filed last night to do our part to keep the government from shutting down. We have so much sympathy for our poor Uncle Sam!