Washing Laundry in The Bathtub


Being both a writer and a woman who was once a teenage mom, I’m often asked: “If you could write a letter to your 16 year old self, what would it say?”

The answer is always the same: “Don’t worry. You’ll own your own washer and dryer one day.”

No. I never want to tell myself about living fairy tales—whether involving Prince Charming stories or Ugly Duckling tales. I always default to self-reliance, and simply finding that place in life where I’m finally “okay”.  This probably all seems strange, but when you’ve been where I have, you understand the glory of doing laundry.

See, I spent a great deal of my life lying to folks about my financial status. Not because I wanted to mislead anyone, mind you. Just because I was raised believing “Poor” is a self-chosen social disease we should look down upon. When I fell squarely under the heading myself, shame overcame me. I told the tales of my “having” days, but rarely did I speak of when I was a “have not”.

My childhood was privileged with private schools, all the nice clothes and toys, boats, new cars, nice homes, and upstanding parents. This changed during my parents’ divorce when I was 13-14. My mom left with little or nothing. When my father decided it best for me to live with her, I shared in her nothing, and we ended up on public assistance. Shortly thereafter, due to my parents being the typical divorced parents in the mid-1980s who only worried about one-upping each other and who they were dating/marrying, I led a mostly unsupervised life. My son was born 5 days prior to my 16th birthday.

Dad refused to provide any level of support to us, financial or otherwise. Mom moved out, and there I was, son in tow, with absolutely nothing. No phone. No cable. No car. I had my feet and determination, but that was about the extent of our resources.

Our apartment, rented in my mother’s name, but occupied only by my son and I, did not include a washer and dryer. There was a common pay per load laundry facility in the middle building. When you’re living off $3.15 an hour (minimum wage then), even trying to pay the meager amount of rent, electric, and still buy food takes every dime. I really didn’t have the dollar or so it would have cost me to wash a load of laundry. I realize that seems silly, but it’s one of those aspects of poverty one can only understand when they’ve been there. If only I’d been taught this in childhood, maybe the shock wouldn’t have been so bad, but I digress.  Washing laundry, then, was a matter of physical labor only women pre 20th century might understand.

Each night I would kneel at my bathtub, fill it with water and pink, generic dish soap (rarely could I afford laundry detergent) and dump our small basket of laundry in to soak. After they’d set for long enough, I’d begin the job of scrubbing each piece of clothing by hand, rinsing, re-rinsing, and wringing out the water. It was a painstaking process. My fingers often became so dry they’d bleed from doing something that, in 1989, most people did without even a thought, let alone physical effort. On the weekends, the laundry included towels and bedsheets. By Monday, my hands would look like I’d spent a month in the snow sans gloves.

When the day finally came that I could afford the laundry mat, I felt like a millionaire. No joke. I loved going to wash clothes because that meant the skin on my hands would remain, and my clothes wouldn’t be stretched out and sour smelling from hanging on the shower curtain rod to dry overnight.

Eventually, I moved out of an apartment, and into my own home. My very first home purchase was made at Sears with an unbelievable amount of joy: A brand new washer and dryer! Yes. I could simply walk down the hallway, drop clothes in the top, push the button, and trot off to help my kids (3 of them by then) with homework. I could even afford laundry detergent. Liquid laundry soap, even!  Queen of Sheba!

My life has changed so much over 43 years. I’ve gone from being part of a family with more money than most, to abject poverty, to doing okay.

I own my own little piece of the Earth, now. It’s meager and small, but I it’s mine free and clear, and I love it.

I’m doing what I love most: Studying. Momming. Writing.

Although I’ve long since replaced that first washer and dryer, I’m still doing laundry in the manner I’d dreamed. I even have a clothesline so, in the summer, my bed linens smell fresh and nice. My kids are happy, healthy adults. I’m a grandma now. Life in general is pretty great. I’ve even almost finished my college degree.

When people ask me what that degree means to me, I never answer status or fulfilling a family legacy.

I simply say: It means I’ll be able to leave a legacy for my kids—to show them that just because you’re skinning your knuckles today doesn’t mean you always will. With enough hard work and determination, you’ll realize your dreams, too.

Hard work and determination are the two resources we Poor People will always have. They can’t take those from us, mostly because they never believed we had them to begin with.

(image source: http://www.howtocleanstuff.net/how-to-hand-wash-clothing/)

Small Town Life: Growing Up “Other”


One undeniable thing about small-town life is if you weren’t born there, you’ll never really belong. People will always look at you funny. They’re raised from the cradle to give side eye to anyone who doesn’t quite fit their mold. This experience of rural life increases exponentially when one attends parochial school.

Watching my grandson in his very first year of public grammar school, I look on as he forms new friendships—boys running down the sidewalk, conquering invisible villains with their first-finger laser beam guns.  None of the boys question if he was born here. They don’t care if he is Lutheran or Methodist, or who his daddy or grandpa are. All they care about is if he knows the details of the latest Batman game. I sleep a little easier hoping he’ll never know what it means to be an outsider.

I was in second grade when we moved to my tiny town. Diversity was defined only by the crops grown in any given season. Skin color only differed during the summer when migrant workers moved in. Thinking about it, I don’t think we ever really spoke of them. They were our invisible population—not quite slaves, but not even close to our equals. One might suppose I was lucky. I was a transplant, too, but my skin and language matched. At least I had that going for me.

Although my grandparents were farmers, my first seven years found me living far from them, so I never really knew the ins and outs of agriculture. Sure, I knew what cows were, and I knew about home grown vegetables, or at least I knew about eating them. It took some time before I warmed up to farming.

I was a city girl—a business man’s daughter. I cut my teeth in the press room of a print shop, interacting with customers more than kids, and maintaining the appearance of an entrepreneur’s child. I learned, though.

My first trip to the dairy farm owned by my friends’ and classmates’ family was in 2nd grade. I loved animals, so I loved the vibe of the farm. Being an only child, the interaction with the other kids was challenging.

During an innocent game of hide and seek in their grandparents’ farm house, they hid and I was supposed to seek. When I realized I’d have to explore rooms beyond the kitchen, living room, and bathroom, I panicked. I couldn’t go into the bedrooms. That just wouldn’t be polite. Surely they must know these things, right? My friends had abandoned me. I was just sure of it.

I cried to call my parents. I was terrified. These girls didn’t like me. I knew that as sure as I knew if I went into their grandparents’ bedroom I’d be chided by their elders. Worse, my parents would find out, and I’d be grounded for not having decorum attributable to a young lady.

As it turns, everything would have been fine. They were playing. I overreacted—a trait that would follow me into adulthood. What also followed me, rearing its ugly head about 9th grade was the fact I did not, in fact, belong in that house.

There was no Deutsch blood coursing through my veins. I was not Lutheran by birth. My parents weren’t farmers. What my best friends and I had in common was youth and our school desks. Nothing more. Once we no longer shared the tiny rooms in our protected bubble of a school, and once we blossomed into young women, I was out.

It’s questionable if my 3 best buddies abandoned me by their own choices, or if it was filial piety that forced our break. I became pregnant at 15—something I’m sure struck terror in their parents, especially when one of the other girls-a fellow towny, but still blood related,  followed suit shortly thereafter.

She was accepted, embraced even. I was not.

I became Patient Zero; The bringer of all things evil on their whitewashed, puritanical town. Even the tan-skinned souls working the fields that summer were held in higher regard. They couldn’t “contaminate” their daughters. They’d never be allowed close enough. But me? I’d been in their homes. I’d laughed and played Barbies and Four-Square with those girls. I could ruin them all. I was an alien being in small-town USA, and was thusly cast aside like the rotten melons that would be left lying in the field after the harvest.

All we learned in our morning devotions about loving one another, and letting our Triune God hold all the stones to be cast went flying out the window. I wasn’t fit to be a scarecrow in their fields. Not because I’d committed a sin worse than what their own daughters had committed behind their backs, but because I’d been caught.

My pregnant belly would give me away. Their self-appointed court could condemn me with the only evidence of my “sin” they needed, just as they sat in judgment over the people who were here to make an honest man’s dollar working in their fields.

If I’d have had any sense, I would’ve left back then with the caravan of “others” when fall became winter.

I didn’t. To this day I live in this small town. I’m not sure why other than leaving is easier said than done when you’re responsible for more than yourself.

With the advent of social media and with my children having attended the same high school as my former friends and I, I’ve had occasion to reconnect with the girls who used to jump Double Dutch with me. We only connect in pleasantries, though.

“How are you? The kids? You parents?”

My attempts to reach out to them beyond that have been denied. I’m still not up to par, I suppose. Sometimes that bothers me. Most of the time I don’t think of it.

Until, that is, I see those laughing little faces playing make believe laser tag on the sidewalk as they wait for the bus. Then my mind transports me back to four little girls giggling about everything imaginable whilst camping out in someone’s living room, watching scary movies, and eating rubbish.

I miss those little girls, including myself. We were so innocent and untouched by the cruel judgmental world that would encompass our lives so few years later.

None of my school mates followed me into adulthood fully. A couple high school friends remained friends with me until I married. Then they were gone.

Sometimes I cry for the little girl I was who knew she didn’t fit in, who was alone and afraid. Then I ask myself “Jesus, did anything really change?”

Between Ignorance and Selfishness: Personal Accountability


How many times do I have to see someone trying to give away or sell a pet they no longer want? It seems everyday someone in the paper or on the internet has evicted their once beloved pet from their lives, and for what? Some of the most idiotic reasons surface, but it’s usually the fact they have a small child, they’re moving, the landlord is making them get rid of it, or they don’t have the time to invest in a pet. I’m well aware life happens—things can and do pop up, circumstances can be beyond one’s control. Usually, though, people know they’re taking a risk when taking on a pet. Do I need to think about the responsibility I’m taking on with a pet? Of course not. I’ll just rehome it later.

Being a bad pet parent is not the only thing that hits the top of my list of irresponsible acts by people this week.

As August rolled in and kids went back to school, my newsfeed was clogged with people looking for help with school clothes and supplies for their children. Again, I realize life happens, but some of these people act as if they had no clue what was going to happen as fall approaches. They acted as if parenting slipped their minds whilst they were posting all their summer-fun shenanigans on social media. Do I need to put back a little for school clothes? Nah. I’ll beg for those.

We often call people like the ones I’ve mentioned “stupid,” but I need to argue about that term a second.

Truthfully, none of these people I know are ignorant. We like to label them as that, and they like it, too, somewhere deep down inside because if they are “stupid” or “ignorant,” that serves as justification for their actions. They can just “dumb” it away.

“Look, I know I was stupid, but I’ll do better next time,” you might hear when calling them out for their irresponsibility.

I expect better than a lame excuse, though. I expect the truth.

Honestly, people who act in this manner are not stupid. They are not ignorant of the way life works. Instead, they are selfish.

To say someone is stupid or ignorant there must be some understanding that they were not privy to the information that might have helped them make better decisions.

For instance, someone might buy a car with underlying mechanical issues no one found before the purchase. A mechanic might not even know. These people are ignorant to the fact this issue will impact their future with the car, and therefore, they purchase the faulty vehicle. It is not their fault. They simply had no knowledge.

People who knowingly and willingly take on a pet or child are not ignorant to things like a landlord not allowing pets, or children needing school supplies. Ignorance never enters the arena. They make decisions based on their own selfish wants, without regard for the responsibilities they’ve  embarked upon.

I cannot and will not explain this away for them by calling them “stupid” or “ignorant” because I believe in personal accountability—something these folks clearly do not want.

Children and pets are not something to be cast aside when times get tough. Being a pet parent or parent of a child requires good, strong decision making skills. When someone adopts a pet  with the knowledge that they are not allowed to have said pet, or has a child they knowingly cannot afford, they reach a pinnacle or self-indulgence I cannot understand.

We do not live in the dark ages when educational material was hard to find. Nope. We live in the age of the internet. Most everyone, at least in the US, has access to the information they need to make it through life. This includes details about pet ownership and parenting.

People who do not educate themselves are at fault for their blaring mistakes, and what’s infinitely worse are those who have been educated, but simply choose not to take heed.

Knowing the pet you loved enough to bring into your home or the child you willing created has needs, but choosing to ignore those needs, or breaking rules that will make it impossible to properly care for them, makes you a supreme narcissist—nothing more and nothing less.

So, no. I won’t call those folks ignorant. I will give them the ugly crown they deserve to wear as those who depend on them suffer. Then I’ll hope those they’ve completely let down survive the fall to be happy and healthy despite the self-centered jerks who hurt them.

(image source:http://day-with-kt.com/self-absorbed/)

Doing Equal Opportunity Right: Steak and Shake


So often the media only gives us the negative stories of an employer’s blatant discrimination or mistreatment of staff. However, today I’m happy to bring you one story that proves one of my favorite places really cares about us all, not just some.

I love Steak and Shake. It’s unclear if it’s their burgers, shakes, or just the atmosphere that I appreciate most, but I really love going for a relaxing, yummy meal in a burger place that does not qualify as “fast food,” even though the service is usually relatively fast. So today when I checked out my Facebook page, I was saddened to see a woman on a garage sale site advertising that my local Steak and Shake was in need of employees. The fact they needed help wasn’t what upset me, though. It was the fact the woman’s profile pic was the rainbow flag with a black vertical line through it. She clearly did not support the LGBTQ community, and I was saddened thinking one of my favorite places to eat might not be an equal opportunity employer.

Because LGBTQ rights means so much to me, I immediately called the restaurant, asking the manager if she would hire me if I were openly gay. Her response was an immediate “Yes.”

My hear felt slightly better hearing that, and it only got better following her answer.

The manager quickly contacted the regional manager, having him call me to discuss this matter. He promptly gave me a call assuring me this anti-gay representation did not represent the policies or standards of Steak and Shake, and told me the woman who had made this post was not even an employee, but the wife of an employee who would be asked to remove the post.

He went on to say that Steak and Shake fully supports the LGBTQ community, and would never discriminate.

Whew! My conscience can allow me to return to Steak and Shake!

I was really proud that an employer did vehemently stand behind his LGBTQ employees. It made me happy to know at least someone is helping make the world a better place, and making a job a little easier for some folks out there who already face far too much discrimination and inequality. Steak and Shake is not only a great place to eat, but apparently, also a friendly environment in which to work.

Thank you, Steak and Shake, for being on the right side of history with those of us who just want the world to be equal and fair for all. It means so much to know there are wonderful, safe places in the world where we may all gather for food and conversation, equality and support.