Wednesday, March 31, 2010

White Trash Cafe


(owner of photo unknown)

Regardless of what type of home life a kid has, for a while at least they think that everybody lives the same way they do. If you are poor, or from the “other side of the tracks,” at some point there will be a watershed event that clears it all up for you and puts you directly in your place. It’s not a pleasant thing to find out you are "less-than" other kids. Being poor is a real eye opener. Everybody is signing up for little league and you have to lie and say you don’t like baseball, or the cub scouts, or a million other things. It’s not a fun thing to discover that other kids wear clothes that are much nicer and obviously cost more than yours do. It was a real surprise for me, to find out that all moms weren’t like mine…

I had many of these "watershed" events in my childhood and what follows is three of them. As you might have noticed (or read) by now. Kids in our family would fight outsiders for no reason at all. And none of us were the type to say “no, you hit me first!” Forget that, look at us sideways and we were throwing punches before the other kid even thought about swinging. My older brother Mike was short, but tough. I was a little taller than normal, wiry and tough. My younger brother Tim was wiry and just happy to oblige anyone that wanted to go at it. In other words, most kids knew better than to make fun of us for being poor.

One day after school I walked home with another kid. We weren’t good friends, but got along pretty well. He lived around the corner from me and asked if I wanted to stop over at his house and play for a while. His mom wasn’t home from work and he was supposed to wait, or play in the back yard until she got there.

We were just farting around, doing nothing really, when his mom got home. She opened the back door and told him to come in the house for a minute. I stayed outside, but I could clearly hear his mom yelling at him about not ever bringing that “white trash” to their house again. He was not to play with me in the neighborhood and he was not to play with me at school. I may have only been in the third or fourth grade, but I knew what white trash was. I didn’t wait for him to come back out, I left on my own. The next day at school I saw the kid and acted like nothing had happened. I knew what I was. I wanted to tell my mom, but knew better. She would give me absolutely no sympathy whatsoever and then she’d probably go kick the living hell out of that woman. Yeah, I knew….

I knew what I was. I knew it well enough to never have other kid's parents drop me off at home. It was too embarrassing. I had a pretty nice house picked out a few blocks away to be dropped off at. Sometimes I’d actually have to walk up to the front door before they’d leave. They just wouldn’t make it easy on me. One time I left something in a friend's car. They turned right around, went to that house and knocked on the door.

What a surprise for everyone. “I just dropped him off here!” “He doesn’t live here and never has!” I seem to remember some turmoil being raised at school over that one. Our house was a shack. My brother would get on one side of it and start pushing, after a very short time, he would have the entire house rocking on its foundation.

Most elementary school kids go to camp in the sixth grade (at least they did back then). The Long Beach school district has been doing it forever. Everybody goes. Well not quite everybody. They gave us several documents to take home for our parents to see and sign. One of them is a list of items that you have to take with you to camp. We didn’t have crap and my mom sure wasn’t about to buy anything for me to go to camp. I'm very sure my grandmother would have paid for it. Or one of my mom's "gentleman" friends would have. But she couldn't care less if I went to camp or not. So while all the other kids prepared to go, I didn’t. While all the other kids talked about it, I didn’t. While all the kids boarded the buses, I didn’t. I had to go sit in a class of fifth graders for the week. I was the only sixth grader in the entire school who didn’t go to camp. I knew what I was...

That year I had a funky white windbreaker for my only jacket. It had no lining at all, but I had to wear it every time it was cold. It wasn’t very efficient and was impossible to keep clean.

It’s Thursday and it’s been cold all week. The classroom is quiet and we’re supposed to be reading. The teacher asks me a question. “Mr. Tillett, why do you wear that old dirty jacket to school every day?” “Don’t you have anything else to wear?” She asked me loud enough for every single GD fifth grader in that class to hear what she said. I replied that I had others (a lie) but I didn’t want them to get ruined on the playground (another lie). There is no way that my face didn't turn bright red. I felt it get hot. I felt every kid in that room judging me. I may have only been in sixth grade, but I knew when somebody was being an asshole. And a mean asshole at that. I didn’t come back to school the next day and even though I had no other jackets, sweaters, or sweatshirts, I never wore that white piece of shit again. No matter how cold it got.

I damn sure knew what I was...

34 comments:

Margaret Benbow said...

The bravery of kids is incredible. Just to persevere with their lives in the face of so much cruelty and ignorance. Thank God they grow up and learn NO ONE has the right to make them feel ashamed.

Bossy Betty said...

OUCH. I am afraid I experienced painful moments such as this. Not as painful, but I remember them very clearly.... Being poor as a kid is the worst. You've done nothing to deserve the ridicule that comes your way and you are powerless to change it.

Pat Tillett said...

Margaret - that's right, as kids there is no recourse for them.

Betty - Yes, being poor really sucks! It was actually a good thing what my mom did, in the long run.

Tocalabocina said...

I grew up a chunky little girl, in a time before 50% of kids were overweight. I learned to cope by making fun of myself before anyone ever had the chance. Popularity through self-deprication. I wonder just how much our childhood coping methods make up who we become as adults.

TS Hendrik said...

Your teacher was a... hmmm, I'll censor myself, *Expletive Deleted*
With all the other crap you had to deal with, that's ridiculous.

Jerry said...

Yikes. What a retelling. I felt bad for you as I read it. I think its horrible when adults make children feel like crap for their social status. It's not like the child asked to be born to nothing and requested to not have any money. But you are a better man for living through it.

Pat Tillett said...

Katie - I know I took all my coping skills into adulthood. My best one was "disassociation." I'm also sure those methods had both good and bad impact on me as an adult. Most are gone now, I'm happy to say!

TS - I know! Crazy...
One thing after another happened to me. The more I write, the more incidents I remember. By 6th grade, I wouldn't even consider telling my mom what the teacher said. Just like in the story above, she would have just laughed at me, or ambushed the teacher and beat the hell out of her.

Pat Tillett said...

Jerry - When I look back at it all now, it's almost like it was a book I read, or a movie I watched. The story of my life will certainly have a happy ending...

KarenG said...

Beautiful post, Pat. Reminds me of Angela's Ashes, U.S. version. Please tell me you are writing a memoir.

Pat Tillett said...

Thanks Karen,
I'm not sure I could put it all together. The factual parts are easy, it's tying it all together that taxes me...

Talli Roland said...

That's terrible, Pat. Glad to hear your story will have a happy ending!

Nat said...

I can't believe the insensitivity of that teacher! Surely anyone with any common sense could have guessed the real reason for your shabby attire?

Beautifully written post :-)

Copyboy said...

You'd think a teacher would be more understanding of everyone's economic situation in a community. People can be so cruel. Though I had a Member's Only jacket that I wore with pride. I'm the real person who suffered. haha.

sarahjayne smythe said...

A lot of times we forget just how hard and horiffic growing up can be. It's good that people remind us.

ASBLACKASOBAMA said...

Pat, your life never seems to amaze me.... I can't imagine the pain and hurt you suffered as a child.

You have a way with words, sir.... And in a totally innocent way, I can't wait for the happy ending....

Ally said...

How can people be so mean. It is so depressing to me. It really is.
Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing

Big Pissy said...

I'm so sorry you went through such a horrible time as a child. I've never understood how people can be so mean and cruel to a child. That teacher was a horrible person. She/he should have been trying to help you rather than humiliate you.

I barely know you, but I'm glad you're telling your story.

Ms. Anthropy said...

Pat, you are such a brave person to put it all out there. (and beautifully, I might add.) People can be so heartless and cruel.

So Not Wishy Washy said...

Glad I had you laughing earlier. You have officially made my fucking blood boil. That bitch of a teacher? I wholeheartedly believe there's a special place in Torture Land for people like her. As a public school educator who adore all of her kids and takes great pains to lavish amazing amounts of love, understanding, and compassion on those kids who come from insane homes filled with hate rather than love, I want to punch your old teacher in the fucking head.

Chuck said...

Two of my best friends from grade school lived your life. I only knew they were my friends. I went to their house they came to mine. We never judged or talked about our differences...we were just friends.

My dad ran a YMCA camp while I was going to grade school and I was able to take some of my friends to spend a week with me doing the regular camp stuff throughout the summer. I took these two friends every year for 4 years in a row. Cause we were just friends.

That was a brutally honest post, man.

buymebarbies said...

It's only when you have worked so hard to get through the tough times as a child, that you can write so truthfully as an adult!! People for the most part are good, but some people just SUCK!!! I'm glad you worked so hard at getting through your tough times.....;-)

She Writes said...

Wow, that hurt to read. But I am not sorry I did. Aching by the end.

The Retired One said...

I am so sorry Pat for the pain you had growing up in these impossible conditions...you have taken those times and made yourself a caring and wonderful person, so you can have the last laugh...some of those rich kids and families may have turned out to be horrible people with miserable lives.

Pat Tillett said...

Thanks to all of you! It was tough and I still have more stories to come. It took a lot of work to exercise the demons my childhood left me with.
Thanks to a lot of therapy, some good friends, and my lovely wife (ms buymebarbies), things couldn't be better.

Powdered Toast Man said...

How could that kid's mother say that? I don't understand people. Whose to say you weren't a fine young chap.

You should of punched that teacher in the baby maker.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Oh boy you are like Oliver Twist. I am glad to hear that you outgrew all that but OMG...street urnchin get's sent to war. Promise that when I complete my time machine I an gonna find the younger you and give him a couple of bucks and cookie - if not for you but for myself. GAH!

Brenda's Arizona said...

Ouch, Pat. Reading this makes me go look in the memory bank in my heart and wonder if I ever knew a kid like you. Did I ever seem mean, did I ever snicker or not stick up when I should have? I am sure there are lots of memories I don't want to find. Great great story.

Kaela said...

Pat, I'm loving this blog. I bookmarked it awhile ago because the post that day had a bunch of blogs I should check out. Now I can't find that post, but I'm glad at least I found your blog - it's beautiful. Can't wait to read more.

Pat Tillett said...

Hi Kaela - Welcome aboard! thanks for reading! There's plenty here...I just went to your blog, and liked it also!

Brenda - Nah, you were probably nice. Most kids knew better than to say very much to us. It took awhile, but we "taught" them.

Cal - Thanks! That was nice. I've given the kid (me)some good positive reassurance since then. He's doing fine!

PTM - I don't know what makes people say the things they do. Truly, If I would have told my mom what happened, she would have marched over there and kicked the hell out of that woman. But that would prove the lady was right, so I didn't say a thing...like I said, "I knew what I was."

Minoccio said...

I loved this post. My childhood wasn't that bad, but still I never asked my parents to buy anything for me, unless it was for my birthday or new year's/christmas holidays. I just felt like they didn't have enough money, and didn't want them to worry about it. I didn't dress as good as most of my classmates did either.

Pat Tillett said...

Minoccio - It's not easy being a "have not." That's for sure.
thanks for commenting and following my blog! I like your movie reviews also.

passionofthemom said...

That teacher is a bitchface. I can't believe the BS teachers get away with saying to little kids!! UN-acceptable. I was also PWT as a kid, and it made me scrappy, too...as you can probably tell from my blog. LOL The whole 5th grade camp thing is something that I wish I'd gotten to do when I was a little kid, so I make double damn sure that they go. =) IDK if the little one even wants to go, but by god, she is GOING! LOL You would think that the school and/or camp would understand the stigma of being left behind and make that stuff more affordable...but that would be the SMART thing to do, and people who run schools just can't have THAT kind of malarkey, no sir. None of that SMART stuff can be allowed at a school -- what a preposterous idea!! (Okay, okay...climbing off the soapbox now. LOL) Sorry your childhood was "FUN" like mine. But I have to say, you should definitely have let your mom in on what that other mom said to her son about you, just so she could have her sorry ass beat down for it. The nerve of people, treating a child that way...makes me ill!! At least you were able to take the high road, and it seems to me that you became the best version of yourself. Kudos, friend!! You are truly a testament to "that which does not kill us makes us stronger". =)

Pat Tillett said...

Janet - First off, I'm sorry that shared some of me experiences. Not exactly a great childhood. You are so right about the teachers and other adults. they should know better. Of course some of them didn't. If I had told my mom about the "white trash" incident, it would have resulted in more than her beating the lady up. It would have gotten back to school and I'm sure I'd have ended up fighting over it. Either way, what a mess, right? Thanks for the comment and for understanding...

Jimmy said...

Not sure how I missed this one Pat, Yes Sir I can relate to a whole lot here all the way down to the windbreaker, mine was yellow though and to fit in I actually took a hand a sewing things on it to make it look more cool, you know how that went over---right

We know who we are but we did learn from being there to not hold anyone else in that position.

Excellent post my Friend.