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Entries in Childhood (2)


Passing thoughts on poverty

I grew up poor. American poor, which in the big scheme of things isn't that bad. In high school we lived in rent-controlled housing and a single-wide trailer. I never owned two pairs of shoes at one time until I was sixteen and then it was only because I needed work shoes. I shared a checking account with my mom so my income from washing dishes could pay our rent. But as Pat Conroy once said, "The greatest gift a writer can receive is an unhappy childhood." My gift, compared to Pat's, was small.

Visiting Tanzania was an opportunity to evaluate the pluses and minuses of poverty. The negatives are obvious and grim. From a shorter life-span, to not having clean water, to living with the imminent threat of diseases that we don't even think about anymore. (Sad that my dog is better immunized than any of the children we met).

But the surprising thing was that there are peculiar pluses of poverty, not that I'd wish it upon anyone. But while the poor in underdeveloped countries are chained to daily subsistence living, they're not chained to possessions, or the commercialism that comes with them. They aren't bombarded with messages 24/7 that say, "You're not slender enough, you're not rich enough, drink this, eat this, buy this and be happy."

They just are happy. Because happiness is free.


Speaking of free things (and if you can forgive this crass, commercial segue), the fine folks at Random House have posted the first two chapters of SONGS OF WILLOW FROST online, for free. SONGS is set during the Great Depression so there's that poverty thing again. There's also abandonment. But if you look real close, if you search between the lines, you'll know there's a glimmer of happiness, somewhere.


The horrors of childhood

My childhood was scary enough.
I’m not a big fan of horror movies. That is to say, I don’t watch them. Suspense? Sign me up. Sci-fi? It’s going in the Netflix queue. But horror, the kind directed by Rob Zombie where half-naked coeds get gutted like codfish? Just not my cup of blood-pudding.

That’s not to say that I haven’t watched them. But it was back in junior high with the other 9th grade residents of the Stridex burn-ward. Even then, we were only watching Friday the 13th, Part II, to get my friend’s mom to go to bed so we could watch Ursula Andress in the Sensuous Nurse. Late night HBO in the 80s––what a strange soft-core wasteland that was.

But wanna know what’s really scary? Really scary is serving waffles to my 10-year old daughter and her friends after a slumber party and one of them says "have you ever seen Saw or Saw II? They’re really freaky".

Me in stunned silence: wake up, wake up, the waffles are burning.

Okay, I haven’t seen either movie, but I’m going to go way out on a limb here and guess that these aren’t movies any 10-year old should be watching. Am I wrong? If I am, please present your argument (and your home address so Child Protective Services can come spirit away your children, pets and any living houseplants).

Apparently her dad rented ‘em and watched them with her older brothers. So this little girl who looks and acts like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird just soaked it all in. The parental control knob on her father’s brain fell off and rolled away somewhere beneath the couch.

Call me a prude. Call me old-fashioned. But my oldest is 12, and I don’t let her watch R-rated movies. Ever. Even PG-13 gets a glance of suspicion. If she’s going to see scary movies, she’s going to have to go about it the proper way––by sneaking in when she’s supposed to be watching Herbie-Fully Loaded, the way I did when I was her age.