What did ‘rich’ mean to you as a kid?

I don’t think I’d ever dive into a vault full of coins. Paper, maybe…

Yeah, I think it’s a silly question, too, but I saw it on Twitter, and saw an interesting response or two from folks I know, and decided to respond myself… and thought y’all might want to get in on it.

It came from this feed I had never seen before. I only saw it because people I follow responded:

Here’s what Sen. Katrina Shealy said to that:

I never thought about it. We were not rich but we were comfortable and we had friends and family that had more and those who had less. I never noticed, until I I read all these responses.

A few minutes before that, our friend Lynn Teague had written:

As y’all know, I’m generally not that interested in money. (A sure way to lose me is to steer a thread toward a discussion of the economy.) Unlike someone whose Twitter handle is DelyanneTheMoneyCoach, when the subject comes up I usually run the other way. But I responded this way:

Elaborating on that diving-boards-and-pools theme, I suppose I should throw in the Clampett’s cee-ment pond.

Another model for me was the Howells on Gilligan’s Island. Which reminds me of something else, so I might come back to them in a later post.

In other words, the models were silly, and the things that distinguished them as “rich” were even sillier. Nothing basic, like a washer and dryer. (Maybe that’s what drove her to be “the Money Coach.”)

When I was a kid, I saw us as living sort of outside that whole money universe, since my Dad was in the Navy and therefore outside the private-sector rat race thing. We usually had a washer and dryer in our homes, but I owned my own house before my parents bought one. We were just always moving around too much. My folks bought their house after he retired.

Not that I never think about money, as an adult. I think about it way more than I want to. That’s why my fantasy about being rich is simple: I’d like to have enough money that I would never again have to think about money. I’d hire what in Regency Period terms (all those historical novels I read, you know) would be called a “man of business” to deal with all that. All bills would go to him, and he’d take care of them. I’d also engage the services of someone clever to watch him, and then maybe a third person to watch her. And I’d instruct them all not to bother me with it.

I think that would be way better than a pool full of ginger ale…

I couldn’t find an image with ginger ale. But I’m sure I read a comic that mentioned it…

11 thoughts on “What did ‘rich’ mean to you as a kid?

  1. Pat

    Interesting twitter thread. I was recently on twitter for about a week and decided it was not for me and deleted my new account.
    As for the answer to the question, it was hard to think back to those days. Most people had one tv, one phone, one car, and a washing machine. We ate every meal at home except for maybe a hot dog or a barbecue sandwich. Most people I knew had a small house, but there were some rental homes intermingled with the large and small homes. There were also some large old family homes that were divided into two or three apartments. There was no such thing as private or gated neighborhoods. Rich and poor, and old and young all lived nex to each other. So given that background, I think I thought someone was rich if they had enough to share or give some away. Btw, I used to read some of those comics.
    An now that I think about it, we were post WWII and I think most people were glad all they had to worry about was taking care of their families.

  2. Barry

    As a kid (under 10) I didn’t think about money. Not sure I understood the concept all that much. I know now, because of my parents, that they were often very worried about money- and often had very little money at the end of the week. We did not go hungry, but they also often didn’t have enough money to go out to eat or buy anything extra. I need to add that I would eat with my grandparents at least 2-3 times a week so I am sure that helped my parents not have to purchase so much.

    As I moved into middle school and my early high school years, as I rode the school bus, there was a family of children at the end of our road that was what I would call “dirt poor.” They rare were able to take a bath, they rented their substandard home from a man in our area that was known not to keep up his properties, and they wore what I would describe as clothes that would not pass muster as hand-me-downs for most people. I still remember 2 of the brothers getting on the bus with their knees showing because their pants were torn.

    So in comparison, I knew my parents were better off but that’s about all I knew.

    A friend of mine at church was what I called “rich.” He had a swimming pool and his dad owned a used car lot business. He was the first kid I knew to get an Atari video game system. But his dad worked all the time and he didn’t see him that much. His dad cared about him- and we all knew that and he did as well – but he didn’t have the personal skills to show it all that often.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “As a kid (under 10) I didn’t think about money.”

      That sparked some memories. The first thing it made me think of is my allowance — 25 cents a week. I suddenly remembered my Dad going to sea for a three-month cruise and telling me that when he got back, I’d have three dollars if I didn’t go out and spend it.

      Most things of value to me cost 10 cents — a comic book, a coke, a package of chips. The most expensive thing I would ever consider buying was a Mad magazine. That cost a quarter.

      I first learned of the concept of inflation when comics went up to 12 cents. When we came back to the States in April 1965 after living in Ecuador since late 1962, I remember the shock of soft drinks having gone up. That fall I started junior high, and encountered something very cool — Coke machines (or were they Pepsi?) in the hall outside the school cafeteria. But the drinks cost 15 cents!

      Early that fall, I went to the only professional football game I’ve ever attended. It was an exhibition game in the Sugar Bowl, featuring Johnny Unitas’ Colts against the St. Louis Cardinals. At halftime I went to the concession area to get a drink. I got a modest-sized cup of Pepsi with ice, and it cost a whole quarter! Blew my mind…

      1. Leon

        I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and anyone who had a color TV in their house had to be decidedly richer than my family. At least that is what I thought. My parents did not own a color TV until 1972 and, of course, I was already out the house. I did go with my father to pick out the TV and bring it to our family home. My parents did enjoy that TV and the 3 channels they could pick up with the rabbit ears antenna.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I was LONG gone before my parents had a color TV. I think they kept their black-and-white all through the 70s. I mean, you know, it still worked.

          Once during that decade, a guy who then was married to one of my cousins came by their home and stopped and looked at their TV, then moved in closer, and exclaimed in amazement, “That’s a BLACK-AND-WHITE TV!”

          For the rest of my Dad’s life, whenever that guy’s name would come up, Dad would tell that story. He thought it was hilarious.

          It was fine with me. I didn’t have a color set until sometime in the 80s. Back in the 60s when so many other folks had color sets, whenever I saw one I thought the picture looked terrible — washed out, no color saturation. Give me a B&W screen with good contrast any time, over that.

          I remember very clearly the first time I saw a decent picture on a color screen. It was about 1973. I was living in a private dorm on the edge of the campus of Memphis State, and there was a communal set down in the basement. Some guys were watching “Yellow Submarine,” and the color was wonderful — possibly because it was a cartoon. Anyway, the quality was a distinct departure from anything I’d seen before on a boob tube.

          I’ve told that story here before, and Bud always argues with me, saying he thought color TV was good in the 60s. Well, not on any set I ever saw…

  3. Norm Ivey

    Color TV was a demarcation for me. That is, until we had one, and then it seemed normal. My aunt’s car had air conditioning, which seemed exorbitant to me. Daddy built things he couldn’t afford to buy. Camper, furniture, concrete patio…

    I didn’t appreciate how rich some people were until Daddy had the opportunity to be a caretaker for an empty ranch house on 3500(?) acres in southern Arizona for a couple of years. We stayed in the caretakers house, but there was the main house AND a guest house. The main house had 2 kitchens: one for the big dogs and one for the help. There was a 4-hole golf course and 2 fishing ponds on the property.

    It was an amazing place to be a kid for a couple of years.

    Kinjockity Ranch

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’ve been there — I mean, in a similar situation, if not quite on THAT scale.

      When we lived in Ecuador, the U.S. consul general for Guayaquil lived in a Spanish-style mansion a couple of blocks from our house. Quite a place. A three-story house built around a central open courtyard, which I thought was cool. And a pool with a poolhouse, which I thought was cooler.

      One Christmas he and his wife went back to the States for the holidays, and asked us to house-sit. So that posh place was where we spent Christmas. We slept in bedrooms that opened onto the open courtyard in the middle.

      Of course, I didn’t think of the consul-general as “rich.” His rank in his government job just entitled him to that sort of housing. Just as I saw within the Navy. When we were in New Orleans after Ecuador, we lived in a big, two-story barracks that had been converted into apartments. My best friend Tim’s dad was a Navy chaplain, but he held the rank of captain so they lived across the street in a big, two-story place that had servant quarters with its own, separate stairway. Tim had three sisters with their own rooms in the main part of the house, but he lived in the servant quarters. We all thought that was awesome — like he had his own, separate apartment (we were in junior high). I and one or two other guys would regularly stay over at Tim’s house on Friday nights.

      Later, when we were at Pearl Harbor, my friends whose fathers were captains lived in Makalapa Heights, and you can’t beat that. CINCPAC himself lived there. One guy I knew lived in a very nice place directly on the water on Ford Island itself.

      When my Dad made captain, we were on a more modern base that lacked those kind of old-school colonialist accommodations. But they (I was off in college by then) lived in a couple of perfectly fine middle-class ranch houses (one of which I helped build the summer I did construction work). Later, down in Orlando, they lived in a similar house that was right on the golf course.

      Through all that, though, we never had color TV. 🙂

    2. Barry

      My parents didn’t get air conditioning until my freshman hear in college in the late 1980s.

      we had one of those large attic fans that did a pretty good job but couldn’t compete with air.

      My dad often tells me of the story when he and my mom married in the early 1960s, they drove my mom’s car to Myrtle Beach on their honeymoon and when they returned, they stopped at the grocery store in upstate South Carolina and bought $10 worth of groceries and came home with less than $1 between them. They had never been more than about 40 miles away from home so driving to the beach was like driving to Texas.

      The only way they went on the honeymoon was that my dad’s grandpa slipped him a little money at the wedding for the honeymoon.

Comments are closed.