When you had what you thought was a normal childhood

When I was a kid, Disney was for rich people

I loved this First Day of School outfit my mom made for me. The jacket was green with white piping and the pants were green and white.

I was surprised to learn that Mr T did not understand the concept of “end of the month food” and he was surprised to learn that I did.

I thought everyone knew what end of the month food was.

In case you don’t – it’s what you eat when the money has run out but the month has not.

I don’t know why I know. I don’t remember the idea ever being discussed. And I don’t know if it was even an issue when I was a kid, but I do know that having steak was a big deal at my house and that there were nights when we had scrambled eggs for supper.

I never thought twice about having eggs for supper – they’re food and they’re good.

We didn’t have a TV, so I wasn’t getting my ideas about what’s normal from what was shown on TV.

I did watch when we were at my grandmother’s or sometimes at friends’ houses, but the dinner scenes I remember are from Bewitched, when Darren would bring his boss home without warning, and Samantha had to stretch two pork chops for three people.

But I didn’t look at at that show and think, “Everyone eats pork chops all the time and we don’t.” It was a show about a witch. I took all of it as fiction.

And we didn’t use Hamburger Helper or anything like that, mostly because my mom is a really good cook and wouldn’t buy crappy processed stuff.

But until I was an adult, I could not understand why her chocolate chip cookies were different from everyone else’s. I wanted the smooth chocolate chip cookies like everyone else’s mom made.

I realized when I was an adult and actually saw the recipe for chocolate chip cookies that most chocolate chip cookies did not include oatmeal.

I asked my mom why she always added oatmeal to her chocolate chip cookie dough.

To stretch it, she told me.

Which made perfect sense.

That wasn’t a concept that was talked about in my house, but it was practiced. Of course you tried to stretch whatever. Didn’t everyone?

Mr T’s brother said that they don’t eat leftovers.

I can’t even begin to understand that mentality. They just throw food away? Who does that?

I already didn’t like Mr T’s brother, but this is just one more reason.

I hate eating out.

Let me amend that.

I hate eating out at expensive places. I especially hate eating out at expensive places with other people.

I hate eating at expensive restaurants because it’s not worth the money. I am a good cook and don’t need to spend a lot of money to eat well. I see an entrΓ©e for $30 and I think, I could cook an entire meal for that.

Eating at an expensive place with friends is even worse. Now there’s the stress of how the bill will be divided. Half and half? Even though I don’t ever order alcohol, which is expensive (and I don’t like anyhow)? I hate the uncertainty of knowing just how much money I will be spending and I hate spending the money at all.

I hate eating out.

We rarely ate out when I was a kid – maybe once a year? And it was a really big deal.

We didn’t stay in hotels on vacation – we camped or stayed with relatives.

My mom made our clothes.

(When we lived in Lubbock, she found a great deal on double-knit polyester remnants – 25 cents a piece – and those remnants became my pants. I had maybe six pairs of pants (with an elastic waist) in various colors, including the bright orange that was translucent enough that the pattern on my underpants showed through the fabric.

One time, the pants split in the back while I was at the chalkboard doing a math problem. I had to wait in the principal’s office while my mom brought me a different pair.)

I started sewing my own clothes when I was in junior high.

My mom cut our hair.

My dad repaired our car and did other home repairs. I don’t remember ever seeing a hired worker at our house.

None of this – NONE OF THIS – made us different from the people around us. This was normal. This was how everyone I knew lived.

I grew up on military bases. Everyone lived in the same kind of house. Everyone shopped at the same grocery store and general goods store. Everyone at the same rank makes about the same money.

But even when we lived off base, our lives were not odd compared to our neighbors.

People where we lived did not eat out.

They did not take their children to the hairdresser.

They did not take fancy vacations. If someone went to Disney, we knew they were rich.

Did I change? Or did the world change?

14 thoughts on “When you had what you thought was a normal childhood

  1. The world changed. Food became cheaper, as a percent of income. Clothing, too.


    My mom and my grandmother (native Texans) made all of my clothes up until my Sophomore year of high school. I was voted “Best Dressed” of my Freshman class in San Francisco (when I lived with my dad), though, because Granny sewed up some seriously awesome, very professional pantsuits, dresses, and blazers for me.

    When I was a kid in North Texas the ’70’s, scrambled eggs were a luxury for our family. Eggs were usually an expensive ingredient in another dish, not a meal on their own. Our end-of-the-month food was BBQ sauce sandwiches. We couldn’t afford meat or cheese, and BBQ sauce made it seem more like we were eating a “real” sandwich than ketchup did.

    We were one of the poorer families in my neighborhood so I always looked forward to sleep-overs at friends’ houses because it meant things like single-serve frozen pizzas cooked in a toaster oven. (A toaster oven! My gods, what an ostentatious appliance!) Or lasagna. Made with cottage cheese but, still.

    I think I’m going to grab a crossword puzzle and go take myself out to brunch right now. πŸ™‚


    1. Wait. I’m stuck on the junior high luxury of a single-serve frozen pizza! My mom made pizza. She made it in a cookie sheet, so it was rectangular, which seems so wrong, but then, I saw pizza in Rome that was rectangular. But frozen pizza? I don’t remember that ever happening at my house, ever. Even the larger pizzas.

      That article is very interesting. I wonder if the reason the French spend more on food is because they eat better food? Maybe they cook it themselves rather than buying processed food? Or their food is more expensive because it’s better? I have to admit that although 7th grade me would have liked the single-serve frozen pizza, current me would turn up her nose. I am a really good cook and don’t like most processed food.

      Does lasagna NOT have cottage cheese? Because that’s how my mom made it. πŸ™‚

      I hope you had a good brunch! πŸ™‚


      1. My guess about the higher cost of food in France would be around higher taxes to support farm subsidies. And maybe because, for decades now, we have very low to no tariffs on food crossing the border from Mexico. We also have a *lot* more land available for industrial farming (and a lot less protections/regulations).

        Adult Me is with you on the frozen pizza. Especially on the kind of frozen pizzas available in the late ’70’s. Blech. I am still in awe of toaster ovens, though. And I still can’t bring myself to buy one. πŸ˜€

        And, yes, *real* lasagna is made with ricotta cheese. I think the cottage cheese switcheroo happened when America became diet- and fat-obsessed.


      2. Ah, right – our whole “exploit vulnerable people working here illegally so we can have cheap strawberries.” 😦

        Toaster ovens – treat yourself! We don’t have a toaster, so this is the only way to get toast, but it’s also great for warming food we don’t want to put in the microwave or doing jobs too small for the regular oven, like melting cheese on top of a bagel. We get a lot of use from ours.


  2. Goldie, I think you left out the most important thing. Your family lived WITHIN its budget. Your parents did not build up years of debt on credit cards. They did not refinance (refinance?) their home to buy a car or … to take a trip to Disney Land or World.

    And, that’s what has changed. Too many people these days, who should be living solidly in the middle or even lower middle class (as you and I did) want to have all the goodies of those at higher rungs of the economic ladder. They borrow too much and put themselves in bad financial places to have the latest phones, the newest most fashionable clothing, and to eat at the expensive restaurants.

    We all like a little treat sometimes, but few of us can really afford to live a life of treats. A lot of belt tightening – by making a budget and sticking to it – would our country a lot of good.

    PS: I love oatmeal in the chocolate chip cookies, but perhaps they need a name of their own.


    1. I don’t even think my parents had a credit card for most of my childhood! That was the layaway era. I worked at Woolco my senior year of high school and would take layaway payments, being sure to carefully note all the details on the customer’s index card.

      Yes, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies need to be their own thing! They are definitely not the same as regular CC cookies!


  3. Just curious – did your family shop at the PX? When my dad retired from the reserves, he became able to shop there – woo hoo! Suddenly we were eating cut of beef I had never seen before, and I understood that they were cheaper than elsewhere.


    1. Yes, but I think back then, beef and other meats were still expensive. My mom goes to the commissary now but I think she could get better deals at Safeway!

      And I have been to the BX as an adult – this was years ago, in DC – and they had great deals on Waterford crystal, which isn’t exactly what the average enlisted person is lacking. But maybe stock varies by location? I sure hope so.


  4. I was all ready to comment in depth on the “end of the month food” thing – I still can’t stand even the smell of cornmeal mush, or things that seem too much like cornmeal mush, and it’s been more than 40 years – but I’m too traumatized by the “they don’t eat leftovers”. WTF.


    1. I KNOW!!! Do they just throw food away? WHO DOES THAT?

      And – I am going to get snarky here – they are not in a financial position to do so. But even if they were, I have a moral problem with wasting food.

      Just in case you were wondering, why yes they are total jerks in other ways.


  5. There are still communities where people live 1. on their means which 2. are not very large. But some things are different now, with fast fashion usually being cheaper than buying fabric (although thrift stores still exist).

    Also, we now have spare money, but before, I also hated eating out with other people; hi, I’m going to have one of the cheap things on the menu because we’re short on money, no, I do not want to subsidize your drink, appetizer, expensive entree, and dessert.

    I guess: living at least sort of cheap is still possible, but it’s a whole lot easier if your community is also living cheap. (dividing up bushels of things from the farmer’s market! Swapping spices and kitchen appliances! Trading labor! And not setting a “keep up with the Joneses” sort of pace!)

    That said, lots of entry-level/minimum-wage jobs now require you to own a smartphone (!!!???) so that’s a new expense. I don’t know; the world is kind of crazy.


    1. Yeah, you’re right – it’s a lot easier when everyone around you is trying to live the same way.

      A few years ago, we went to the chili cookoff. Each ticket granted 8 3-oz samples of chili, which, for two people, comes out to 3 lbs of chili!

      We knew we couldn’t eat that much, so I took a bunch of little tupperware containers.

      I was worried I might be mocked (well, the subject of covert glances and raised eyebrows – this is the Midwest) but when I got a few out and dumped the samples in, people exclaimed, “THAT IS A GREAT IDEA WHY DIDN’T I DO THAT?”

      My. People.


  6. I think the world changed. Yes, greater willingness to take on consumer debt is part of the equation, but as someone else pointed out, food (and electronics and clothing and many, many other things) have become SO much cheaper, relatively speaking, in the last 40 years because of industrial agriculture and globalization. Obviously, this is because the true costs–in terms of health and ecology– have been externalized. It is legitimately difficult to find well-made clothing and consumer items these days, and when you do, they cost significantly more than the run-of-the-mill cheap crap from China. It’s not surprising that folks buy the cheap crap from China, and lots of it, given all the ways that our society encourages us to consume. Fun fact: we have a circa 1950 Toastmaster toaster, made in the USA, still working perfectly over 70 years later.


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