Can-Do Spirit

We had a family gathering last night to celebrate my youngest son's birthday. The best thing about getting everyone together is the reminiscing that goes on. I love it when my kids get to hear their grandparents and aunts and uncles tell stories from the past.

Looking at my parents now, you'd never know their struggles. You wouldn't know how hard they worked to support four kids all born within five years while in their early 20's. I bet my dad couldn't envision himself comfortably retired during those days of literally having a few dollars in his wallet until payday.

Obviously picture quality has improved over the years!

There are some stories from my childhood that have shaped me. I don't remember every detail, but certain things stick out in my mind. 

When I was five, my dad had been out of work for a few months and couldn't find anything. So we moved. We moved from a little town in Western New York to California. They packed us all up and drove an old car six days across the country. I remember very little about that trip except the memories sparked by a few touristy pictures they took along the way. That and squishing hard against the window to avoid my dad's arm reaching into the backseat when my brothers and I had been fighting too long. Two years later, my dad decided he didn't like living in California and we all moved back!

My brother and I enjoying the sights on our cross country trip!

We were once on a trip in Vermont when our car broke down. I remember it being very cold and we stayed in a motel for almost a week. Again, my parents had very little money and the six of us walked two miles to check on the status of our old station wagon. I remember we had just a tiny bit of toothpaste and my mom squeezing it out long past time the point where I would toss the tube unthinkingly in the trash today. The motel owners gave us all free breakfast one morning. At the end of the week, my dad had to sign the title of the car over to the mechanic in order to pay for the repairs and left a post dated check for the motel owners to pay for our room. My parents had finally given in and called my mom's aunt and she paid for them to rent a car to get home. 

We laugh when my dad tells the story of how he scraped together some money to buy another vehicle and told the guy on the lot to show him everything he had under $600. He ended up buying an old beater that hadn't moved in three years. My brother said it looked like an animal had chewed out the middle of the back seat. The windshield was cracked, the battery was dead, and it had four flat tires. My dad said if the guy would replace the windshield and slap a NYS inspection sticker on it, he'd take it! He came home and fixed everything he could and we drove it until it died. 

My mom tells many stories of how she scraped and sacrificed over the years. I've always admired how she went to night school driving an hour and a half each way to get her master's. I don't remember how many semesters it took, but it was long enough to teach me that I never wanted to have to do that. For as long as I can remember, she's always had the attitude of you do what you have to do and you work with what you have. When I was in third grade she took us four kids three days and three nights across country on a Greyhound bus to visit her parents. The only food she had was what she had packed in a brown grocery bag and a little bit of money. It must have been bad because I remember a fellow traveler buying us all breakfast one morning. My grandmother always said she was so relieved when we got there and was sad that my mom looked like she had lost ten pounds on the way!

When it came to home improvement, decorating, fixing cars, landscaping, raising animals, and more things than I can name right now, my parents were always teaching themselves or picking up new skills any way they could. Even today, my dad will almost never pay for someone to do something he can do himself. 

If I could sum up the lessons I've learned from them, I'd have to use the often quoted, where there's a will there's a way. 

I don't know what hardship stories will stick out in my kids' minds about their childhood, but I hope they have some. I hope they remember times where things didn't come easy and they saw us work hard and do without to reach a bigger goal. I hope they realize that struggling for a little while doesn't mean you'll struggle forever and there's plenty to be learned and even fondly remembered in those trying times.


  1. Such a great post, Marie, and it also brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. We were so poor, my mom sometimes had to sell old toys to buy groceries. But I have such a fond remembrance of those times. I worry sometimes that my boys haven't had to really "tough" it out!

    1. Thanks, Lana! I worry about my kids "toughing it out" sometimes too. I'm sure your mom and my parents didn't enjoy their struggles, but it obviously made an impression on both of us!

  2. A great post. I think that having to endure hard times makes us all the more resilient and able to cope with everything that life throws at us. As a child, I can definitely remember going without when times were tough for my parents. Although I'm not convinced my daughters have ever had to 'tough it out.'


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