Growing up, my family was poor.
But I didn’t know it.
We lived in a subdivision with families who all knew each other, whose parents or grandparents had immigrated from Poland, the Ukraine, Holland or other foreign countries. I grew up with the neighborhood kids, riding our bikes until dusk, exploring the river valley behind our house and sledding and skating during the interminable winter months.
For the longest time, the route to Edmonton was a rough, gravel road. I can still hear the pings of the rocks being thrown up under the car.
My childhood was marked by a lack of focus on the material. We didn’t have much, but we never missed it. My mom had a huge garden every summer and she canned and pickled and cooked all kinds of fresh foods, including raspberries and rhubarb. Our two story house, built by my dad, had unfinished floors perfect for drawing on with crayons. The stairs leading to my bedroom and my siblings’ rooms were covered in drawings of people and animals. Our living room carpet was tomato red. Some of the walls were still rough drywall.
I never noticed.
In the winter, a woodstove helped keep us warm. One of my most lingering memories is the scent of wet, wool mittens drying in front of that stove. We would come in from playing outdoors and pull off the tiny clumps of ice and snow that stuck to gloves, snow pants and coat cuffs, and toss them on the flat top of the stove. I loved the sputter of melting water, the way the tiny drops danced on the surface before finally dissipating.
When our well went dry one summer, I have a vague memory of a long garden hose stretched across the road to our neighbor’s house so they could share with us.
Looking back, I have no memories of feeling deprived during my younger years. We had an awesome tree house and playhouse, room to roam and friends to play with.
When I was a teen, my family picked up and moved. Nearly 18 years of living was sorted, packed into boxes, and sent to North Carolina. I stepped on a plane in one country, and off it in another. I went from the cold, dry air of an April in Alberta, to the cloying, thick warmth of the south.
For my parents, the long move meant starting from square one. We struggled to put down roots and establish ourselves. There was no money for college.
I spent my late teens and early 20s working low-paying jobs, fighting my way toward a degree. I got pregnant. Walked across the stage to receive my diploma. Got a job in journalism and bought a house. And even though I had that degree, it wasn’t the ticket to prosperity I was told it would be. I never had much, and I felt the pinch a lot more as an adult than I had as a kid.
But I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned to live with less. I’ve learned that free things create the best memories and that splurging is more fun when it’s occasional. I’ve learned to waste less and appreciate more. I’ve learned to be frugal and still be debt-free.
I don’t intend to accept it as a permanent way of life and I strive to do better, but why live through something if you’re not going to learn from it?
Someday I’ll be better off than I am now, and I plan to enjoy it. In the meantime, I’ll garden and immerse myself in hobbies and learn to stretch a dollar a little further.