A childhood friend once pointed out that she thought that my family was the quintessential American family growing up, pointing to the fact that I am a fireman's daughter. And I am. I never realized that fact is so meaningful to who I am. But it is.
Daddy was a tall, sometimes intimidating man, with a southern drawl, a decent temper, and a heart as big as they come. And this brawny 6 foot 3 guy drank tea, loved to shop, and teared up when watching the movie "My Girl" with me.
For the most part, my childhood was great. I was mostly unaware of the dangers Daddy faced - and he didn't share them. In retrospect, I realize being awakened at 2 am with a pizza in hand from Park West that he brought after a trip to the bar in the restaurant was likely a bad day that he couldn't talk about. I think now did someone die? Was a child hurt?
In the second grade there was a terrible fire in the city. Chris Kovac (*name changed for privacy's sake) was in my class with me. His dad was in the same fire company as my dad. But one difference, his dad didn't make it home from the fire that day. I think that was one of the last fire calls my father was ever on. I went all through school with Chris occasionally talking to him, but not friends. A glance at him made me realize what I had in this life. I realize now I often felt guilty that my dad was OK and this prevented me from ever truly conversing with Chris.
We didn't have a lot of money. But we did OK. There were some lean times. I came later in life to my folks, so as I got older, finances were more stabilized and things weren't as tough. But still, there was not a lot of money. But enough. I tend to have these compulsions that I realize are brought upon by my upbringing, in particular when it comes to finances. Reuse, reduce, recycle? I didn't need some environmental advertising campaign - it was the way we lived.
I am thankful for being brought up this way. Mom and Dad were children of the depression and WW II - they knew what doing without was like. I never heard them complain about it. They knew how to stretch a dollar; to make cube steak (blek) taste good, do home and car repairs yourself, get the extra job when needed. Throughout most of my life there was Sunday dinner at 1 pm, after morning services at the Catholic Church, where most of the family would gather. An aunt and uncle, some great aunts, a few cousins, knew if they wanted to come over, Sunday was when the gang would all be there. No matter what was going on in life, Sunday dinner seemed a constant.
When it came time for college, Mom and Pops sort of stayed on the sidelines, advising me minimally, and trying to get people they knew to help me make my decisions. I knew money was tight, I had no clue what I was doing, my grades and standardized test scores were pretty good. There were a few scholarships, but tuition costs freaked me out. I didn't even try an Ivy League school, but RPI and RIT actually appeared to drool over me. But the sensibility of a state school could not be denied in my mind, and off I went. I had a hard time adjusting to college life. I got a job and worked through college, trying to pay tuition, books, etc. I took out loans. Pops helped out a lot.
When I got my first job at General Motors - I felt like a rich man. Indeed engineers get paid well but not like the more lucrative professions such as a doctor or lawyer. I didn't know that - I was amazed - my starting salary was close to what my father had retired on just a few years prior. I had heard my Mom talk about a French restaurant in Syracuse frequently. I called up Pascale's and set it up, told her to invite the family (including a few aunts) and dinner was on me. I brought the ladies white roses. I felt like such a big shot. Of course, my family still having their blue collar flair, complained about the portion sizes, the sauces, and I forget what else. Afterward, I swore the next time - Ponderosa.
The second order of business was how to repay my folks for all they did for me. There really was no way to do that financially or otherwise. But Dad had never had a new car before. I called my sister, told her of my plans. Like me, my parents had supported her in her college education and she would be soon be graduating herself. Together, we put a nice size down payment on a teal blue Buick LeSabre. It was probably one of my favorite moments in my life - being able to do that for them. My parents first new car ever.
Steve and I are by no means poor. Without my salary, and with the onslaught of uncovered expenses for Zach, things are tight. But we are so fortunate to have options. I thank God that Mom and Dad gave me the sensibility to not live the high life, but within my means. We do live in what I consider a huge house, but it isn't exactly well decorated, in fact it may look a little sparse. In the dining room sits my great Aunt's dining room set, circa 1945. In the kids bedrooms, a dresser and bookshelves from Steve's childhood, in the guest room, my grandmother's dresser and night table. We did splurge on some bedroom furniture 2 years ago, and some living room and office furniture. But everything is piecemeal.
I kinda laugh that we live in a neighborhood that when I was a child that we would take Sunday drives through to see how "those" people lived. Here we were driving in to our lovely neighborhood just 3 years ago with our 13 year old vehicle up and our minivan that is pretty banged up, but safe, so we leave the bangs. There are a million Honday Odyssey's on the road, and I think it is safe to say, ours will never be stolen. I like to say it has been "customized with anti-aesthetic theft deterrents".