When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. While I never heard it said, in the scope of things back then, we were probably considered fairly poor. Oh, we always had plenty of food on the table, an assortment of nice clothes and a warm house to come home to, but by and large, I have since learned the adults in my family went without a lot to make sure we had everything we needed ... maybe not everything we wanted, but everything we needed.
As I think back, most of my friends came from families who had far more than I did. Those kids lived in homes that never knew about drafts that made the curtains move ever so slightly in the winter; and in the summer, those same homes were cooled with air conditioners that were nothing more than a pipe dream for us in our old farmhouse.
Those same kids went on vacation every summer to exciting places like Disneyland in California, the Grand Canyon and the beaches in Florida, however, we instinctively knew Mickey Mouse ears would never find their way into our kingdom. Likewise, my friends usually had clothes and shoes from the nice places on Main Street, while ours came via the Sears Roebuck catalogue. And even though we lived on a farm and butchered our own cattle/hogs (which I really didn’t understand until I was an adult — ugh!), hamburger, chicken and hot dogs graced our table far more often than my city friends who were known to have steaks quite often.
As a young adult, I used to say my friends came from a “milk and cookie family, which basically meant they had a Dad who went to work every day, and a stay-at-home Mom who made sure there were warm chocolate chip cookies and a cold glass of milk waiting for the kids when they came from school. Dad would come home from work, put on his slippers and read the newspaper, while Mom prepared a wonderful meal and ran out to quickly pick the kids up from piano lessons.
At my place, Dad wasn’t even in the picture; Mom and Grandma were at work; Grandpa was doing farm chores before he left for his night job; our after-school snack never consisted of warm chocolate chip cookies — store-bought cookies seldom even existed; and piano lessons were replaced with farm chores we had to do before we helped with dinner, did our homework and tended to other household duties. To say the very least, a milk and cookie family we were not.
Fast forward many, many years ... I’ve learned a lot since I was that not-so-wealthy kid from long ago. Basically, the biggest lesson I’ve learned was that things weren’t nearly as sweet as I thought they were in all those milk and cookie families. Talking with those friends from my childhood, I’ve learned that what appeared to me as perfect ... a home life I yearned for ... was actually for them filled with many troubles, problems, worries, issues. Yes, there may have been milk and cookies, but love was often absent; daily issues reared their ugly heads behind closed doors; and life was not nearly as perfect as it appeared.
On the other hand, we may have been eating hot dogs instead of steak and getting our hands dirty feeding the sheep, the hogs and ponies instead of learning piano scales, but love was never absent. Any issues or problems we had, they were shared by the entire family, and we never pretended they didn’t exist. In a nutshell, life was not perfect, but we didn’t pretend it was either.
It’s taken quite some time, but I think I’ve finally realized the best family — minus the milk and cookies — was right under my nose. My grandma always used to say “the grass is always greener ...,” but from where I live now, I’m fairly sure our lawn — even though there were a good share of weeds, was right where I needed to be.