If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch
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Monday, August 6, 2007

Ugly!

I never knew Poverty had such an ugly face, until I met Rich. I had just turned seven when my parents told me about Rich. When they described him he seemed like a cool guy and when they told me we were going to go live with him, I got pretty excited.

It was only a couple weeks later that we moved in with Rich. We never again went back to visit Poverty and I don't even recall we said a proper goodbye. We just packed up the few things we had, moved from Noti to Seattle, and moved in with Rich. We didn't tell Poverty where we were going because we had no intent to ever see him again, and we certainly didn't think we would miss him.

My parents were pretty happy when they first met Rich. I was happy too because he fed us food I'd never tasted before, bought me lots of things, even took us on great vacations and gave us indoor plumbing. It didn't take long before we all learned to love Rich because Rich gave us so many things. I still remember the first Christmas with Rich. He bought us so many things we didn't know what to do with them all. I just took them all to my room and put them under my bed. I'd play with them later.

Sometimes I imagine Poverty is following me, hoping to be friends again. When I look back he's not really there but I start to remember when we used to live with him. I'm not sure Poverty was that bad of a guy, actually. Oh sure, he didn't bring us very many things, and the food he gave us was a little scarce and kind of plain, but I do remember our whole family talked more, and had more fun, when we lived with him. He seemed more real than Rich. I mean Rich bought us lots of things; he still does; but he is just not friendly. He's just Rich, and for some reason when he tries to be personable he just seems so...plastic.

Others have told me I am fortunate to live in the same place as Rich. I guess so. But I don't remember we were all that unfortunate when we lived with Poverty. It's just that things are different now. Before we lived with Rich I never knew you could buy food in little aluminum trays, inside a box, that you just popped in the electric oven and then ate while watching TV. I had no idea toilets could have little handles that sent water shooting through until Rich gave us a house with indoor plumbing. I was completely unaware that vacation is something you did once a year, taking you to places far away, but Rich took us to lots of them. Rich gave me all these things then and he is still giving me things. The only thing he asks in return is that I take good care of things. But even when I don't, or when I've lost what he gave me, he just buys me a new one. My house is stuffed with the things Rich has bought me. Every time I move I realize just how much stuff that really is. Oh, I'm thankful to Rich, and the things are nice, but sometimes it just seems like a lot of work making sure I still have all of it. I often worry that some of my things will end up missing and I think some are. Rich doesn't ever get too upset though, he just buys another one.

Not too long ago I saw Poverty again while on a trip to Mexico. It seems he moved there after we left and I don't even think he recognized me. Rich was with me, and since the two of them don't have much in common, I didn't get a chance to talk with Poverty, or see how he was doing, what he had been up to. Rich was constantly reminding me of the places I had to see and things I was supposed to do. Reminded me that I didn't have time to stop and talk to Poverty or the family he was living with. Part of me wished I had though. Perhaps I could send Poverty some money later, I thought. I don't remember if I ever did.

Poverty's face was much uglier than I remembered as a child. But the family he was with didn't seem to care and, in fact, they were having a small party and seemed to be genuinely having a good time. Everyone was smiling and laughing, the kids were playing in the dirt, the adults were watching them play and talking. It appeared Poverty still didn't give many things but, strangely, none of them seemed to care. I wasn't sure what to make of that since Rich had assured me so many times he was making me happy with the things he was buying me. I think this may have been the first time I began to wonder if Rich was right. I wondered if he really was making me as happy as I thought . These people seemed so much happier than people I know.

I thought about Mexico for a long time afterward and one day I just asked Rich why he didn't make me happy. Rich simply pointed to everything he bought me and looked perplexed. "But what about those people in Mexico living with Poverty", I asked Rich, "why can't you make me happy like that?" Rich merely shrugged his shoulders, scratched his head and then walked away. Didn't say a word; like he didn't care about my question. He seemed cold and distant. He made me feel empty, depressed and lonely inside.

I couldn't get Mexico out of my mind, so I drove to the place where I used to live with Poverty, see if I could remember if I was happy then. It took me a full day to get there and find the old house where I used to live, but it was still there. Even the outhouse and the chicken coop were just as I remembered. The fence that held our goats had rotted away mostly but you could still make out where the posts had stood. I peeked in the windows of the house, a few were broken out and all were dirty, and then I looked through the cracks in the walls. No one lived here anymore, it still slunk to the right just like it used to, but it didn't look much different than when I lived here as a child. Even the porch, still intact, dipped toward the ground the same way. Most of the roof had fallen in and, for just a moment, I even thought I heard Poverty calling me from the kitchen window. It was an illusion but my mind raced with memories and slipped back in time to 1959. I remembered again the cold nights my whole family huddled together under blankets and told stories trying to stay warm before sleep. I remembered waking up in my mothers arms, feeling her warm breath on top of my head, my dad outside already feeding the goats and chickens before hauling their manure to a large pile in the back. As I stood there I almost thought I could smell breakfast cooking; fried corn meal mush. I even thought I saw my brother motioning for me to come play through the hole in the wall.

Something brushed my back and I woke from my daydream. It was Rich. "Come on, we gotta go. This place is ugly. Who'd want to call this place home? We can stop at the mall on the way back. I'll buy you something. Make you feel better. You look depressed."

Rich was right. I was depressed and a few tears had even trickled to my cheeks but it was not because of the ugly place I used to live. It was because, in some small way, I actually missed Poverty. Poverty had taught me a lot about love, family, survival and I never really thanked him for that. Poverty had kept our family together and back then I didn't even know his face was so ugly. I just knew my family was everything and when he lived with us he made family seem so important. Poverty always made sure we needed each other more than him and gave us no choice but to love each other. If our family had not loved and cared for each other we would have frozen, starved or possibly died. Poverty left us no choice in the matter and I thought for a moment how cruel that really was. I realized how truly ugly Poverty is compared to Rich. But while it was clear that Poverty was cruel and ugly, it was also true that Rich never really paid much attention to anything but the things he wanted to buy and, unlike poverty, he never did anything to hold our family together. I looked at Rich's face intently for a long moment. He did have a much better face than Poverty, but perhaps that is because Poverty never cared about his own face, he just made sure we looked good to each other. It left me with a lot to think about.

I knew Rich was right though, I couldn't stay here. I wanted to stay a little longer though, remember just a little more. It felt good to remember those days living with Poverty. I stayed about another hour, walked into the woods where we used to play and looked back towards the road. I realized, as I looked back I had known Rich far too long for this to ever be home again. I knew I probably wouldn't want it to be. When I drove home I would once again be among the things Rich bought me and the luxuries he afforded. I knew I would still enjoy those things but here at the old place where I lived with Poverty there were faded memories that warmed me on the inside. Memories of a tight knit family struggling together for survival. They were good memories filled with love and I didn't fully understand my feelings that day. I missed poverty but I was drawn to the life with Rich. But the things he gave me over the years never made me happy for long, never once gave me warm memories like this. Just a lot of snapshots.

Rich looked impatiently at his watch as he stood by the car waiting to take me back home. His artificial tan, gold showy rings and great looking clothes looked totally out of place here. There was no doubt he had a lot of appeal, but now I felt more distant for some reason. I wondered if he was truly my friend. He barely looked my direction, continued looking impatiently at his watch, wanted to go.

I knew I had no choice but to go with him. My life had become entangled in the Rich way of living and he was part of me now. I turned toward the old house one last time to see if Poverty was really standing out there somewhere. He wasn't and I saw only glimpses of an ancient memory that brought another tear to my eye. I turned to leave. Rich looked very appealing in his fancy clothes and shiny rings but in an odd way he made everything around him look uglier than it really was. Even me.

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I think often about that day I returned to my old home and the life I lived with Poverty. Rich and I have had quite a few discussions about that day and about Poverty. I've suggested they speak to one another, see if they could find some common ground, but he is against it and I don't think they ever will. I know within myself that I would never want to live with Poverty again, he is ugly and cruel, but there is also part of me that is tired of Rich and his self-centered ways. I admire both Poverty and Rich but that, I fear, is an odd admiration since they are so very different. I heard recently of a city not far away where there is a great prophet that long ago resolved this same dilemma and could teach me many things. Someone told me his name was Simplicity. I'm headed there tomorrow to find out what he has to say. I think Simplicity might have the answers I seek.

pov·er·ty (povÆÃr t"), n.
1. the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence.

rich (rich), adj., -er, -est,n. –adj.
1. having wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds; wealthy:

sim·plic·i·ty (sim plisÆi t"), n., pl. -ties.
1. the state, quality, or an instance of being simple.
2. freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts.
3. absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.; plainness: a life of simplicity.
4. freedom from deceit or guile; sincerity; artlessness; naturalness: a simplicity of manner.

----to be continued on Wednesday 08/08/07---

2 comments:

Stretch Mark Mama said...

Enjoyed that! Even more since I have a close friend who has wealth, and each time I visit her 'mansion', I feel like a crazy person for wanting to own one pair of tennis shoes and two pair of shorts.

Scott said...

Stretch Mark Mama, I congratulate you on that. I was a sale-aholic for a time and have lots of shorts and lots of shoes. This last move allowed me to weed some of this out and give it away. I have to do yet another weeding.