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PAPERWORK: The things you didn’t have become the gift

We were never poor.

Or were we?

By we I mean me with Mom and Dad and my sister. During our growing years in the late ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Before leaving the nest.

Our nest often was a trailer or, to use the more culturally pleasing word, a mobile home, or a more modern code, a park model.

I know I know, there are differences in the definitions. But I don’t care. In the end it’s all about space and what you need to do with it.

We needed to live in that space. Or lack of space. For many of the early years.

I do chuckle a bit now when I see the growing trend toward tiny homes. What do they call it? Minimalism?

Online definition: “Minimalism is all about living with less. This includes less financial burdens such as debt and unnecessary expenses. ... For many minimalists, the philosophy is about getting rid of excess stuff and living life based on experiences rather than worldly possessions.”

Well, there you go. We weren’t poor. We were minimalists. Only ... it wasn’t by choice.

When you start defining poor you have to put a tight focus on the basics: food, clothing and shelter.

Another quick look online: “The definition of poor is having little money or belongings, or lacking something. An example of poor is living below the poverty line. ... Poor is defined as people with little to no money or belongings.”

Well ... OK, maybe we were poor. But I suspect definition is more complicated.

I was a kid. You adapt to what you have and try to accept what you cannot have.

I never really felt poor. But I do wonder if there were times we were barely getting by. I should have asked.

When we talk about those days, I usually conclude, “I don’t remember ever going hungry.”

(And we retell the story of the day we had nothing for supper. So Dad went out with his .22 rifle and one bullet. We had squirrel that night.)

So, yeah, we faced tough times but made-do.

My parents worked hard. And saved hard. Which speaks of a different time and generation. Clearly the Greatest Generation.

Our menu was limited at times, clothing came from the cheapest stores and our living space was tight.

But we didn’t go without those basics ... food, clothing and shelter.

Of course, I yearned for more than I had. (Doesn’t every kid?)

I saw others who had more. This was painfully clear from junior high through high school.

I was envious of what others wore, what they had.

We made the annual trip to buy clothes at the thrift store before school began.

Still this period was a better time. Our parents had saved enough to buy a small house. Mom worked and Dad had a steady job as a welder and later with a steel fabricating business.

We fit a common mold. Pay checks were important to get through the month.

I have come to understand more the sacrifices they made … for my sister and I.

Mom pinched a penny until it weeped. Up until the day she passed just shy of turning 90 she had a Christmas Club account.

We saw the results every Christmas morning. Gifts piled high around the tree. Memorable gifts. Lots of gifts.

Those early days had impact.

I don’t fret about money but spending big bucks feels like I’m using the last quarter in the coffee can hidden in the cupboard.

And I save nails found on the ground. Just in case.

I‘ve been using the word “poor” carelessly. There is serious poverty in this world and my own town. I do not mean to diminish such suffering.

In fact, I was lucky. Because what you have is not always what you need.

And the things I could not have now remind me of what is important. And what I did have.

And I am a richer man for it.

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the retired managing editor of The Times. Email to or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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