Over the course of my life, I have fallen and risen through various socioeconomic subclasses. Most of my childhood, my parents had us safely tucked into a mid to lower middle class category. Not always though. We struggled at times, and lifestyles changed accordingly. The good news for us was that my mom could make some darn good beans and cornbread, and her rice wasn’t bad either. She would sneak a little sausage or country ham in her beans for flavor (finances permitting), and they would blow your socks off.
Mom, if you are reading this, plan on bringing a crockpot full of beans to the next get-together.
I learned later in life that beans and rice are what economists refer to as “reverse economic indicators,” meaning if sales of rice and beans are on the rise, it implies that people have less income for food, an indicator of a souring economy. For me, Mom and Pop buying beans and rice was an indicator that we were going to be eating beans and rice that week. I never thought about the economics of it.
That is not to say that I didn’t notice differences, though. Hope as I might, the year never came when I had a 64-pack of crayons on the first day of school. The best I ever did was a 48-pack once, and that required negotiations rivaling the length and agony of Jimmy Carter’s efforts to secure peace in the Middle East.
To me, it was worth the challenge. I envied my friends with their very own 64-packs and, Tenth Commandment notwithstanding, I coveted their Burnt Sienna, the subtle shadings of which epitomized what a true crayon collection should be. The built-in sharpener, not included in my measly 24- or 48-pack, was simply salt in the wound.
As an adult, I identified a marker of success upon being able to send my kids to school with a 64-pack of Crayola crayons. I remember when my daughter entered first grade, and I proudly packed the 64-pack into her backpack, imagining how she would stand out among her peers with that Burnt Sienna crayon glowing in her box, not to mention Sepia and Raw Umber!
When she arrived home, I was anxious to hear how her crayons were received by the rest of the class, so I began asking prodding questions about her day in the hopes she would divulge her shining moment without me appearing too vain about it. In the way of 6-year-olds, she told me about every last detail of the day . . . except the crayons. So I finally cut to the chase.
“Well, tell me about your crayons. Did your new friends like all the different colors?”
She began to speak.
“Here it comes!” I thought with glee, “I have successfully transitioned my kids into being crayon One Percenters.” I had climbed one rung further than my parents and marked my success with a tangible result. I patted myself on the back for accomplishing a lifelong goal.
Words formed on her lips and eventually crossed them, but in my celebratory state, I wasn’t quite sure I heard her correctly. I clarified.
“Uhm, sweetie, did you say your teacher made everyone in the class dump all of their crayons in a bucket?”
“Yes, she didn’t want anyone to feel left out, so we will just share all of them this year.”
I sat in dazed silence. What sort of socialist agenda was this? Denying my right to vicariously flaunt my 64-pack of crayons in the faces of those less fortunate or, heaven forbid, more frugal?
I regained my composure and formed a follow-up question, “Well, what happened to your box with the fancy built-in sharpener?”
“Oh, we threw the boxes away. She has a fancier sharpener that we all will share this year.”
Again . . . dazed silence. What is this word “share” I was hearing so frequently? When I was a kid in school, we did not “share.” We did not “share” lunch, we did not “share” pencils, we did not “share” binders, and we most certainly did not “share” crayons!
This was beyond socialism! This was the communist takeover that Paul Harvey and President Reagan had cautioned us about!
All I could think of were images of that poor, beloved, 64-count Crayola box drenched in the leftover juices of fruit cups, pencil sharpener shavings, and chalk dust as it lay buried and unappreciated in the bottom of a first-grade trash can. No product of such distinction deserved such an unceremonious demise.
As I sat coping with my inner turmoil, still trying to absorb what had happened, a thought came to me.
“Honey, did the other kids get to see your big box of crayons before you dumped them in the container?”
She began nodding before I completed my question, and hope flooded within me. “We all saw each other’s crayons as we dumped them in. One kid had a box of 120. It was awesome! Everybody was jealous.”
Like receiving a punch in the solar plexus, I reeled, slowly accepting that crayons, let alone a 64-count box, were no longer the identified status symbols of my youth.
Rather than wallow in my agony, I maturely moved on to the next item on my checklist.
“Sweetie, have you ever heard of a Member’s Only jacket?”
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© Michael L. Collins
*This column appeared in the October 21, 2015 edition of The Mountain Press.