“If one more person takes my hand and tries to say they understand,
Tells me there’s a bigger plan that I’m not meant to see,
If one more person dares suggest that I held something unconfessed,
Tries to make the dots connect from righteousness to easy street,
Well I, I won’t deny I’ve relied on some assumptions,
A man’s honest life entitles him to something…” -Broken Praise, Todd Smith
I’ve learned that telling a story that stretches across 20+ years is difficult because, to my family, it was just life. Like any other family, we loved going to the beach, laughing with each other, watching movies, baking cookies. We ate dinner as a family. We went to church every Sunday. But the difference between us and most other families? Our rough patches were more like milestones than simply rough patches. Take any financial rough patch you’ve had and spread it across the whole of your years raising children or being raised and that’s what you’d have–that’s what we had. We had breaks between these milestones; we had hope that it would get better. It just never did.
I’ve also learned that throwing stones doesn’t have to be literal–in most countries, it would be a crime anyway. Throwing stones comes in many forms–accusations, blame-shifting, labeling, conclusions, etc. Bad situations become worse when people step in to do anything but practice community and Jesus-like grace. Sometimes there just aren’t conclusions–sometimes we can’t hide behind the pretense that with a dose of effort and a pinch of common sense, everything will be figured out. Life isn’t a formula. We don’t always have this in the bag. So suck it up, Mary Poppins, and deal.
As you read our story, I’ll be frank: you’re going to blame my dad. Most people have. But I really wish you wouldn’t. I really wish you’d just read. I really wish that this story will shine a light on the reality of poverty, rather than the stereotypes that have evolved it into something it’s not.
And hey, Dad? The haters gonna hate.
Without further adieu, here’s the situation:
It just takes a thought to be that little girl again. It’s late February of 1998. I’m 5 years old. We’re driving down to Summerville, South Carolina. And I’m staring out my car window, watching the rain drops race each other down the outside glass.
Summerville was where we were supposed to start our new life, which is exactly what we were doing. Little did we know, though, how much of a polar opposite our reality would become in comparison to what we thought was happening as we packed up boxes and left 315 Summit Drive for the first time. Little did we know that within the next 5 years, we’d be moving right back in that little, yellow house that we would one day paint white with the brown porch that we would one day paint blue.
My dad was closing in on 5 years with the upstate company when they started inching him towards the door, taking down his salary and encouraging him to go down to the Charleston territory and develop it. And this one company down there offered him a large territory and decent pay. He took it.
I don’t remember everything, but I do remember moving. I remember that we all lived downstairs, Anthony’s room diagonal from the one I shared with 2-year-old Abby. I remember looking down from the upstairs room and studying how the early morning light cascaded across the concrete driveway. I remember Mom making brownies one evening, the fluorescent light cascading across that old, white stove . I remember my brother’s green desk. I remember how the house had this deliciously musky scent that made me feel at home. I remember how Anthony would wake up early to help Mom with her aerobics.
That was the spring I met my first best friend, Summer. We played Peter Pan in the backyard and would alternate between being Peter Pan or Tinkerbell, sprinkling sand into each other’s hair like it was pixie dust and zooming down the slide because it was the closest thing to flying away to Neverland. That was the summer I bugged her about getting saved until she finally shut her eyes and speedily recited, “Dear Jesus come into my heart. Amen!” And smirked at me, leaving me quite concerned for her soul.
That was the summer of beach trips and insanely hot weather and sitting on fire ant piles, which resulted in crying for Mom. That was the summer Abby, Anthony, and I sat on a styrofoam cooler at the beach, sending cans of coke all over the beach. To all the whales out there, I deeply apologize.
But as the summer of 1998 came to a close, so did our time in Summerville. My dad was not given the territory he thought he would have and logistically, he couldn’t make it work for our family of five. So it was back to Greenville for us and off to kindergarten for me.
When we came back from Summerville, our grandparents let us live in their basement until we were able to get on our feet. Unfortunately, our dad is a salesman. And sales is a tough business to be in–if things are good, they’re really good. But if things are bad, they’re really bad. He started work right away as a salesman for another heavy equipment company, but they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. So he left. Then he tried working as a salesman for a cemetery, but they only let him sell the flowers and gave everything else to their more seasoned salesmen. At that job, he ended up only making $100/week so he left there as well. 1998 left my dad jobless and our family without permanent housing.
But that was just the beginning–1999 was on its way.