My wife and I just had our kitchen and bathroom remodeled. Total tally for the job, somewhere in the neighborhood of seventeen-thousand dollars. No, we didn’t pay cash for it all, but we did exercise some creative financing, thanks to incredibly low interest rates, and since it is something my wife has wanted for as long as I’ve known her and, since she works so damned hard for very little in the way of extravagance, we went ahead and took the financial plunge.
The improvements we made, plus the rising value of real estate in this area, makes our home worth, probably, about $350,000 . . . much, much more than was paid for the home twenty years ago. Needless to say, we are in good shape with equity and future financial stability.
Take a Trip Back in Time With Me
I’ve mentioned, in earlier articles, that I bought my first home when I was twenty-eight years old. I’ve owned twelve homes since then. In many ways I was lucky and privileged. My parents paid for a good education for their only son; we always had food on the table and stability in our living situation; I was white and loved; and there were no major disruptions in my upbringing, nothing like divorce or parents unemployed or even death, not until I was twenty.
I was thinking about that the other day. It occurred to me that not once, while I was growing up, did I lack hope. Not once did I wake up and think “I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell” of succeeding in life. Not once! And I’m certain that my friends, kids I grew up with, felt the same. We all knew that if we continued with our education, if we worked hard, and if we applied our talents towards a goal, that we would one day build a decent life for ourselves and our families. We did not realistically think we were going to be billionaires, but we did have a realistic goal of a white picket fence and more than a few extras decorating our single-family home once we reached adulthood.
There was never a doubt, in our minds, that it would happen.
I’m not sure when it occurred to me that there are children growing up in the United States who do not harbor such hopes. I suspect it was during six months I spent in rural Louisiana, circa 1970, volunteering, teaching reading to underprivileged children. There I saw what real poverty looks like. There I became aware that what I experienced as a child was a fantasy to many who are born into the lap of gut-wrenching, soul-killing hopelessness.
Prior to that six-month stint in New Iberia Parish, Louisiana, my knowledge of economics was the accumulation of textbooks I had read, theories and statistics and sterilized academia. It may have applied to the life I lived in Tacoma, Washington, but it had very little to do with a child born to a prostitute, wracked with addiction, sharing a mattress with rats.
As a black woman of indeterminate age told me one day, under the shade of a massive willow tree, “That’s just the real of it, college boy! My child, he learn early, ain’t no chance of ad -vance-ment,” and she spit out that last word, then laughed, coughing up phlegm, her eyes dimmed by time and fate.
Ain’t No Chance
Here’s the thing: As mentioned earlier, I don’t remember seeing any evidence of poverty in our neighborhood when I was growing up, this being the 50’s and 60’s. I’m pretty certain of that fact. We were all, our little circle of humans in the North End of Tacoma, Washington, lower middle class or middle class. Our parents came up through the Great Depression. Most of the fathers fought in World War 2, came home after the war, and found jobs in warehouses or driving trucks or working manual labor jobs in a growing economy.
We had money for necessities. Our parents drilled into our heads the value of hard work, and the American Dream, that if you work hard enough you will always have what you need, and then some, and some day we kids would have our own homes, and families, maybe move out to Suburbia, send our kids to fine schools, and on and on it goes. There was no doubt it would happen. I did not, for one second, harbor any thoughts of poverty while I was growing up. It would not, it could not, happen to me.
But just south of there, the South End of Tacoma, out east of Pacific Avenue, there were pockets of poverty. The homes were run down, yards littered with rusted cars on blocks, skinny dogs roaming in packs, looking for survival, skinny kids roaming in packs, looking for survival, and I guarandamntee it they didn’t have dreams of a better life if they just worked hard, the American Dream a figment of some white man’s imagination, as distant as the jungles of Borneo.
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I was blind to it all growing up. I simply did not see it. I simply could not imagine it.
Today, though, I can’t use the ignorance of youth as an excuse. Today I do see it. There are people, in my city and in every city in the United States, who don’t have a chance of making it, and to deny that is to forfeit a portion of our humanity.
I was watching a show on tv the other day, “The Voice,” and one contestant said something that annoyed the hell out of me. He said, and I paraphrase, that “he was raised by parents who taught him that anything he wanted to be, he could be, if he just worked hard enough,” and to me, quite simply, that is a lie, one which is told to millions of children every single year. We cannot all be anything we want to be simply by working hard. Life doesn’t work that way. There are some obstacles which are just too large to overcome. There are some shortcomings which cannot be eliminated simply by putting in more hours, and that’s just the real of it, as that black woman many years ago stated so eloquently.
What’s the Point of This?
I guess, for me, it’s all about awareness, understanding, and a sprinkling of empathy.
I was lucky! There is no other way to say it. I was born into a vat of excrement and came out smelling like roses. My biological family was a mess. They put me in the foster system, a blind kid with very few prospects for success, and nine families passed on me before my adopted mother and father took a chance on me, a chance bankrolled with love, and gave me advantages I am forever grateful for. And those advantages eventually led to my wife and I, in 2021, spending seventeen-thousand dollars on remodeling projects for a home we own.
Can you imagine the absolute perfect confluence of events which have happened, during my lifetime, to lead to this moment? It is mind-boggling and it is humbling.
The blind kid made it, and love led the way!
Can you imagine?
For millions, in today’s world, no, they cannot imagine. They have no frame of reference.
They have no hope!
Thanks for taking a trip back in time with me. It was nice having your company, and I hope you’ll join me on my next journey from Yesterday to Today.
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.