WOSTER: The definition of rich?
It never occurred to me growing up on the farm that my family was anything but rich.
And we were, I suppose, in the sense that we were all relatively healthy with plenty of food for the body, books for the spirit and a fair amount of land for wheat fields and cattle pastures. We wanted for little that we really needed, and if that didn't make us wealthy, at least it made us fortunate.
As I re-read that last paragraph, I picture dark-haired, square-jawed Rod Taylor in that last scene from the movie "Young Cassidy,'' I believe it was. The film came out while I was in college, so I'm trying to remember specifics from half a century ago. I had my heart set on being a writer, though, so I was quite taken by the movie.
As I recall, Taylor — playing Johnny Cassidy, apparently a version of famed Irish author Sean O'Casey — has been drummed out of the country for writing plays that upset people. He's boarding a ship to America, and he gives a coin to the young boy who carried his bag. The boy inspects the coin, his eyes wide. "Are you rich?'' he asks. Taylor gazes far across the ocean and, while having had his whole life pretty much up-ended, says, "Yes. Yes, I am.''
That's a more dramatic response than I might have given as a youngster if asked the same question. It's the same feeling I'd have had, though, because we had everything on our small piece of Lyman County. I could have used a new bicycle and maybe a Henry Aaron baseball glove, but I didn't really need those things. Was I rich? Yes. Yes, I was.
I didn't learn until sophomore year in high school that I — my family — wasn't rich in terms of actual money. I hadn't paid much attention to what we had and didn't have. We had a whole bunch of vehicles, for example. My friends in town didn't have so many pickups and grain trucks and farm machinery and tractors. It didn't register with me that we seldom purchased any vehicle or piece of machinery new off the lot. My dad and my uncle drove all over the countryside looking for bargains on used pickups and combines and tractors. And when they found a pre-owned vehicle or piece of equipment, they took great care to keep it maintained and working properly.
I sometimes rode with my dad over to the bank in Presho. I figured we were going there to, you know, get some of our money from our account. It didn't occur to me that we might be there to extend a note or borrow against the next crop or finance one of those second-hand pieces of machinery we had just acquired. It didn't occur to me, either, to ask, as we drove back to the farm, what had been the purpose of the visit to the bank. I was pretty quiet around my dad, but if I had thought to ask him a question, it wouldn't have been on a topic even in the same time zone as family farm finances.
Well, then came the afternoon in the student council room at Chamberlain High School when we pondered buying a popcorn machine to use at basketball games to make money for future council projects. We lacked a budget for the purchase, but Howard Elrod, our supervisor, said we might be able to borrow money and pay it back from the proceeds of popcorn sales.
They call it deficit spending, he said.
I don't like the sound of that at all, I said.
How do you think my dad and Uncle Henry keep the farm running, my older cousin asked from across the table. He and Mr. Elrod laughed. I turned bright red, embarrassed that I hadn't known that, angry with my cousin for telling the whole world.
We voted to purchase the popcorn maker. We paid it off in a timely fashion, too, as I recall. I got over the embarrassment.
I no longer thought of us as wealthy. Looking back, though, we actually were pretty rich.