When I was growing up we did not have much extra money, but I never knew that. Up until I reached seventh grade, I had no sense of social comparison at all. And I mean, at all.
I never had any awareness about if we were lacking money or had abundant money, because money matters were never talked about in that manner. Yet, the concept of sticking to the budget was something I was aware of. If we didn’t have the money to buy something, it wasn’t purchased. Period. I had to do some serious persuasive negotiating to get a pair of Guess jeans when I was in eighth grade. And the only reason I actually got a pair of the triangle labeled jeans was because there was an affordable style of Guess jeans available at Price Club (now Costco). Score!
If we wanted to do something exceptional that was way out of the budget, our family figured out how to raise the money to do it. When my brothers and Dad wanted to go on national Boy Scout Jamborees, our family worked countless weekends raising money by conducting hot dog and Pepsi stands outside of grocery stores. This fundraising concept was the brainchild of Father Joe years before Price Club had food courts serving hot dogs and sodas.
My parents raised me and my three older brothers on one income for the larger part of their early marriage. Mom was a stay-at-home mom for the first 13 years of their child raising years, and she went back to work as a secretary when I started elementary school. Dad retired last April following his 43 years of working as an insurance underwriter.
Dad earned the bulk of the money those early years and he worked tirelessly to provide for his family. Dad also knew that Mom was a masterful money manager and he joyfully empowered her with the household finances. I have so much respect and gratitude for my parents because they worked extremely hard to help us live a good life, and they did it as a team.
Our family lived in a nice split-level four bedroom house with a swimming pool that my parents bought 38 years ago for less than $45,000, and they still reside in it today. Our family went on vacation every year, which usually included visiting my grandparents in San Francisco or tent camping at one of the national parks. The first time I stayed in an actual hotel was when I was in junior high school.
My brothers and I were involved in almost every activity you could think of. Since Mom wanted me to be able to do all of the things she was not able to do when she was growing up, my elementary school years could be documented as “The Chronicles of an Over-scheduled Girl” because at any given time of the year I was involved in at least two or three different after school activities rotating through gymnastics, dance, soccer, softball, girl scouts, and piano lessons. Although I am not complaining. In fact, I am extremely thankful I was able to participate in so many enrichment activities. Everything I was involved in has had a lasting imprint on my life, and I am rooted in many solid friendships with some remarkable women who all started out as my softball and soccer teammates.
I understand and honor that my parents put tremendous value on life experiences. They opened up portals for my brothers and me to experience life in the best way they were able to, and the priceless imprint those experiences have had on our lives continue to ripple today.
In order to provide these priceless life experiences, my parents made considerations and sacrifices in their lifestyle choices. Instead of buying newer cars on credit, my parents drove used cars that they had paid for with cash. Mom’s favorite car of all time was an orange and beige Volkswagen bus that they bought from a mechanic who owned a salvage yard. Our family VW bus was originally two wrecked buses that were welded together. I think my mom clocked way over 100,000 miles in “her bus” before she tearfully had to get rid of it years later for the good of her own safety. If it were up to her, the engine could have been on fire and she would have still thought it was suitable for driving.
Our family ate low budget meals, rotating through a regular weekly menu. Bean soup and cornbread was a staple dinner, and don’t even get me started on how I felt about our weekly Tuesday night hamburger dinner—which usually resulted in me being sent to my room because I refused to eat my dinner. Our family seldom did the extra things like eating out. And, we only got new clothes on our birthday and Christmas. My mom could make her $100 per child Christmas budget stretch abundantly to clothe us for months, courtesy of the Sear’s and Mervyns clearance racks.
As the years went on, and the household income became more plentiful, my parents bought a used boat and we spent many years going to the Colorado River for fun filled weekends that included water-skiing, tubing, and tent camping. A few years later, my parents bought a two bedroom, one bathroom trailer home at Martinez Lake outside of Yuma, AZ (plus a newer boat and two SeaDoos) and I spent much of my summers during my late-teen years at the river with my family and friends.
Something I never told anyone before is that for a few years during my elementary school years most of my clothing came from the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store. I never told anyone because at that time thrift store and resale store shopping was not trendy, and on a self conscious level I knew it was not cool to say my wardrobe came from the thrift store. I recall how my mom tried to be so convincing and cheerful with me when she brought me home a “new” pair of purple knickers (now commonly known as capri pants) she found on the racks during her lunch break. Being as close to my mom as I was, I intuitively knew that on one hand she was thrilled with finding such high quality bargains, and on the other hand, I knew that she knew how I felt about not telling people where my clothing came from. We had what I call a soul-to-soul connection of unspoken truth. So whenever she came home with a bag of pre-worn clothes, I did my best to be thankful…a thankfulness that is far greater now than it ever was expressed as a young girl.
You see, when my mom went back to work she went back to work as Father Joe’s secretary. It was a wonderful opportunity for her especially since our family was so close with Father Joe. He had been our parish Priest and Dad and my brothers were especially close with him through Boy Scouting for many years. Mom was Father Joe’s Boy Scout secretary for 13 years, which also included being his private secretary for six years at St. Vincent De Paul. At first, Father Joe and Mom worked in a closet-turned-office at St. Rita’s Catholic Church. Then after a little while, the offices moved to the upstairs loft of the first St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store that was located on the corner of 16th and Market in downtown San Diego.
Hence, Mom’s lunch hour shopping sprees for purple knickers for me.
In the summer, when I was not involved in a camp or team sport, Mom often brought me to work with her whereupon I helped out by stuffing Boy Scout newsletters into envelopes, labeling them, and licking them shut…hundreds of them every day! Among all of the paper cuts and long days of working with my mom, I learned a lot of valuable life lessons and experienced people from all walks of life.
Every morning when I went to work with my mom at St. Vincent De Paul, I walked past the line of homeless people that stretched around the corner awaiting their breakfast of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich, or whatever donated food was available for distribution that day. Many days I helped with the behind the scenes food preparation. I was around and aware of homeless people on a regular basis and I never felt that I was “above” them. I felt empathy. I’ve always been an energy sensitive person, and I usually sensed their struggles and their hardships. I never felt scared or fearful of anyone except on a few rare occasions when a man would say something inappropriate to me. Thankfully, my mom would rear up mama-bear style, and tell them to mind their manners. (I wonder where I get it from??!!)
A few weeks ago, I spent the morning with my parents touring the building site of the new Father Joe’s Villages transitional housing development on 15th and Commercial in downtown San Diego. My mom and dad donated money to help provide a reading room for the children’s center that will be included inside the facility.
Being part of this project is a really big deal for my parents!
Coming from the background that we did, being raised as I was, knowing the sacrifices my parents made to provide a nice life for our family, and witnessing my parents slowly building their “wealth” with hard work and savings, walking through a building site of which my parents donated some of their hard earned money felt really significant.
Father Joe was part of the tour and he ate lunch with all of us on the tour. My parents and I walked down memory lane a bit with him recalling his imprint on our lives as he baptized me as a baby and gave me my first communion. We talked about some of the more memorable Cloward family dinners he shared with us. And of course, we spoke about Boy Scouts and the years Dad and my brothers were involved with him on Jamboree trips and other enrichment events.
During lunch, Father Joe stood up and talked about his building project and thanked the donors for their participation. He was so gracious in shining a light on both of my parents. He shared some memories of trips he took with Dad and the Boy Scouts. He spoke about the years that he and Mom worked together, which for a long time was just the two of them handling a lot of stuff. The woman sitting next to me, a complete stranger, leaned over to me with tears in her eyes (which made me tear up of course) and remarked about how special it was to hear about my parent’s involvement. I tearfully and joyfully said, “Thank you. It is so special. This is a really big deal for my parents.”
When Father Joe was speaking about his former employer (Mom) helping donate to the project, someone in the room teased by saying, “Wow Father Joe, did you pay your employees more money back then or something?” Everyone laughed, even my parents. Then Mom and I shared a knowing glance and a smile, and she winked at me. It was that mother-daughter recognition that we knew the truth of the genesis of my parents being in the position to donate to a project they felt strongly about. The dollars that Dad dutifully worked hard to earn for many years to support our family, the concentrated effort of savings Mom instilled in her management of the household finances and dad respected, and their heartfelt desire to give to others consistently and joyfully throughout their entire marriage.
In that moment one of my mantras came to my mind:
These things take time.
I use this mantra for a lot of things in my life.
These things take time.
I first was inspired with this mantra a few years ago, as I embarked upon my courageous journey of self examination and healing. I have come to understand that there are abundant and beautiful treasures to be discovered within the space we create for ourselves in recognizing the gift of time.
Cultivating authentic relationships…takes time.
Learning important life lessons…takes time.
Building a business…takes time.
Living your dream…takes time.
We often want things to happen quickly. We want things to happen now. Now! Yet there is so much beauty, clarity, and wisdom that comes with the gift of time. I have come to appreciate the gift of time in all aspects of my life.
In spending that morning with my parents and Father Joe, I witnessed some results from the gift of time.
For my parents to earn and save money…took time.
For Father Joe, to go from being called to help the homeless, and those years working out of a closet-turned office in St. Rita’s Church, to a warehouse thrift store, to now being the Father to the homeless in San Diego with multiple facilities that help people in their most dire life circumstances…took time.
As we drove home that day, I was overcome with gratitude and appreciation for my parents. I could see how happy they both were and I could feel how much of a big deal this was for them both.
When we drove down the street, away from 15th and Commercial, we came upon the corner of Market Street, the site of what once was the first St. Vincent De Paul thrift store. The site that I spent many of my summer days. The site where Mom bought me many pieces of my elementary school wardrobe. The site where I learned that goodness and charity for all matters. The site that now is a transitional housing high rise.
As we got to Market Street, I asked Dad to pull over so I could take a photo.
Dad asked me why I wanted to take a photo and I said, “I want to remember this day. I want to share about this day.”
As we pulled over to the side of the street, I leaned out of the window and took this photo. Dad commented, “Isn’t it something. It took a lot of time to build all of this.”
“It sure did,” I said.
As we drove away, I looked at my parents from the back seat of Dad’s car and I thought to myself…
Yes, these things take time.