Tales of a Second Grade Nothing

Tales of a Second Grade Nothing

In September while heading east on the Lincoln Highway in the Chambersburg area, I stopped to snap photos of two gas pumps that were part of the Pump Parade. The first was at Shatzer Fruit Market in Chambersburg. It features a Chambersburg peach motif.

A little way down the road was the “Nellie Fox” pump in St. Thomas, PA outside of the Oak Forest Restaurant. I just caught this pump out of the corner of my eye, slammed on the brakes and made a U-ey to take its picture.

The parking lot where I turned around at the Oak Forest had a row of buildings lining the edge of the property. They were small, bungalow-type houses. As soon as I saw them a flood of emotion came over me. This little cluster of buildings was similar to the place where I spent the earliest part of my childhood amongst the creeps, the drunks, the dregs and those of us with families who were just a little down on their luck at the time. And this, right or wrong, consistently fills me with a burning shame.

Why? Why should I care about something that was beyond my control as a child? I mean, I have come a long way from where I started. And yet, those meager beginnings still mark me with a stain that no one but me can see.

Growing up, our little bungalow community was bussed to an elementary school that intermingled us with kids who were comfortably situated in the middle class. We shabby kids rubbed elbows with the children of doctors and lawyers. But in school, kids were kids. We were all the same… until we weren’t.

In second grade, I got to invite a few friends over to celebrate my birthday. It was the first time someone from school who didn’t live in my neighborhood came to my house. My school friend walked into our two-room bungalow and said, “this is it?!” and incredulously noted that her living room was bigger than my whole house, which was true. I am 44 years old now and the sentiment still smarts. I didn’t know there was anything “wrong” with my life until someone else told me so.

I’ve been sitting on talking about my feelings after seeing those stupid little houses for months. And I’ve wavered on the idea that maybe there would be some kind of catharsis, or that I might absolve myself of the guilt of feeling bad about growing up poor. So far? Not so much. Now, I feel like I should be ashamed of being ashamed because as crappy as it might have been, there are people who are or were worse off.

It would be nice if I could adopt the wistful-sounding attitude of my mother. She talks of drying out teabags on the radiator and reusing them and being “as poor as church mice,” as an affliction that was triumphantly overcome. And I confess, in truth it was. But clearly, for me, there is a scar.

Get off the cross, we need the wood.

8 Replies to “Tales of a Second Grade Nothing”

  1. As you travel through life, imagine there is a wall immediately behind you that follows you every minute of every day. As events unfold, toss them over the wall. That is where they will remain. You know they are there, but you can’t get to them anymore. Good, bad or indifferent, they are back there and they can no longer do you good, do you wrong or affect what you do in front of you. Because they are forever behind that wall, including the person you were. Look at that wall and acknowledge, “Yes, that was my life” and smile that you survived.

    Where ya been?

    1. Logically, i’m with you. And in practice, there are some things that i am able to wall off completely (or so I think) – but every once in a while something comes creeping back over.

      where’ve i been? nowhere, at all. it’s like i’ve been hibernating. this winter has felt long. the return of the sunshine is turning things around though, i think.

      as always, hope things are good with you, Ted~

  2. Guilt and shame have a lot of power. And it’s funny what will trigger things that have been so carefully avoided.

    Accepting the past, embracing it as part of who we are, is a big job. Some never achieve it. Sounds as if you’re working your way through some serious baggage. Perhaps the sting from a childhood friend can make way for the knowledge of the path you followed from that point.

    Damn, but riding alone can cause problems…

  3. It’s okay, and you’re okay. You make so many people smile with your adventures. You have no idea how you have brightened my day.

  4. Isn’t it weird how so many things affect each of us differently? And how random things like that stick with us? That awful sting really is part of who you are today. People who experience poor are different than those who do not. We were poor, too, but I didn’t realize it until much later in life. Everyone around us — the kids I grew up with and their families — was in the same boat. Having to go to school with wealthier kids had to be hard. Instead of feeling shame, think about what a schmuck that “friend” was. That’s the person who should feel shame. I don’t feel bad about growing up poor. My parents were good people, and the whole experience made me who I am today, for better or worse. Maybe it’s not really shame you’re feeling, maybe it’s just bad feelings surfacing around the difficulty and struggle your family endured? Either way, I think talking about things, or at least admitting things, helps. So kudos for being brave enough to admit that there was some ugliness in your life.

  5. You’re not nothing. You’re interesting, and interested, and obviously a real rider and explorer of your big country. We love your travels, pictures and shared thoughts on stuff.

    Keep doing what you enjoy! 🙂
    M

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