Growing up in a small rural community, I never got the sense my family was poor. I just assumed that people who had things we didn’t were rich. Many families were worse off than mine. After all, we had three meals a day and clothes on our backs, even though they were hand-me-downs. The only new clothing we got was at Christmas or if my mom sewed it. My family lived in a block home with linoleum floors. Some of our classmates lived in wood houses with wood floors (not hardwood that are in vogue now) and even some with no floor. My dad didn’t run our oil heat at night because of the risk of fire. That made for many cold winter mornings when we first climbed out of bed. Every year someone in our school had their house burn down, so the fear of fire outweighed the discomfort. I didn’t realize the impression that made on me until one day, as an adult, I realized I no longer had a plan for what I’d rescue if my house burned down.
My siblings and I qualified for free lunch at school, but my dad would have none of that. No one provided for his kids but him. Instead we took a PB&J and an apple in a brown paper sack and handed over our nickel for milk. Of course, a lot of this changed when we became teenagers and worked for the extras that kids nowadays take for granted — new clothing, spending money, junk food—you know—progress.
It’s funny now to think back on, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for what kids have now. My siblings and I have strong work ethics. I believe most of us know intuitively that we could live with nothing again, if we had to. As the Apostle Paul stated in the Bible, “I’ve learned to be content in all circumstances.” Not that a person is happy with nothing or doesn’t wish for more, but you can be content. I’ve lived it, so I know it to be true. With the economy in shambles, I'm grateful that my parents instilled in me this very important quality.
(Originally ran as a Facebook note February, 2009, but still very relevant today.)