Hot Diggity Dog!

I grew up poor and white on the Gold Coast of Connecticut in Fairfield County.  Yes, I grew up surrounded by beautiful mansions of the very rich.  My family?  We were really poor.  One bathroom, share-a-bedroom poor.  No heat those first few winters-poor.  Clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs were bought at Barkers, the local discount department store.  Way before saving money and Targét became cool.  Barkers was decidedly not cool.

The Gold Coast. That house on the left behind the trees has a ballroom. Literally. They held Cinderella balls there. Or Gatsby balls. They didn’t invite this guttersnipe, though.

We never complained.  Not that we didn’t want to, but it did no good.  Once, my sister Judy complained:

“None of my friends have to buy their Easter dresses at Barkers,” she began to whine.  She stopped when she saw that Dad had overheard her.  She knew what was coming.  So did I.

Well,” said Dad, “you’ve never gone to bed hungry, have you?”

Judy and I exchanged looks.  It was coming.  The hot dog story.  That was the reason we never moaned aloud about our penury.  We knew we’d have to hear the hot dog story.  Again. And we’d have to figure out what “penury” meant.

“When I was your age,” Dad continued,  (Judy and I tried not to look bored)   “When I was your age,” he repeated, “the Depression was on.  My Dad, your grandfather, who built some of the houses around here, couldn’t find work.  No one was building.  No one was hiring.  No one was paying for anything.  No matter how hard anyone was willing to work, there was no work.  No way to feed the family.”

“There were seven of us.  And I remember being hungry.  Going to bed with an empty stomach because I made sure that my mother would have half of my share.  Whatever we had.  One night I remember I had to go to the store to get two hot dogs.  That night, there were two hot dogs and some beans for dinner.  And that was a feast.  For seven of us.”

The story never had the impact on us that Dad intended.  It made us roll our eyes.  It made us certain that he was exaggerating.  It made us feel embarrassed that he was even more poor then than we were now.

Of course we didn’t go to bed hungry.  We lived in America.  Duh!   Kids don’t go to bed hungry here!  Jezum Crow!

But you know, our friends were oblivious to the idea that there were things that folks like us couldn’t afford.  They didn’t understand why we weren’t jetting off to the Caribbean or to Europe or to Disney the way they did.  They didn’t understand that we couldn’t be in the school play because we couldn’t afford the special (very expensive) skirts that became the von Trapp children’s outfits that were supposed to come from Maria’s drapes.  That we couldn’t even bear to ask our parents for it.

Lack of money was something that our friends simply had never experienced.  They weren’t intentionally callous, they just didn’t get it. It was like trying to explain music to a someone who had never been able to hear.  Possible, but challenging. And it took a lot of work.

Now I tell you this story so you know that I have been surrounded by rich people.  So I’m familiar with just how completely oblivious folks can be if they have never had to live on nothing more than two hot dogs and some beans.

Today, I would give anything to have Dad deliver his hot dog lecture.  And I know just who needs to hear it.

You see, today I read an interesting article about Ann and Mitt Romney, and how poor they once were.  Yes, it’s true.  Mitt and Ann were once poor. Ann said so in an interview in 1994!

I was astonished.  Aghast.  I wished I had a couple of hot dogs to offer them. (Sadly, they now have a “no dogs” policy.)

Ann tells the gut-wrenching story about how they once lived in a basement apartment with no carpeting.  They had to eat tuna and pasta.  They didn’t entertain.  They struggled.  They had to sell stock to pay the bills!

Yes, the poor Romneys.  [Hanky, please!]  All they had to live off was the stock that Mitt’s Dad had given him for his birthdays.  Stock that had started at $6 per share but ended up at over $90.  And, hard swallow here, Mitt and Ann were chipping away at the principle!  Eating their seed corn!  Whatever would become of them?

Imagine that.  Just imagine having to sacrifice so much.

So I totally get how big-hearted they must be.  How they understand the plight of the working poor, how they understand the sacrifices needed to achieve success.

Because all you really need to do to succeed in today’s world is to get stock from your parents.  Duh.

Mitt and Ann in rags. Very formal rags.

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*     *    *

As a kid, I really did feel like I was poor.  But I wasn’t.  As an adult, I learned that there really were poor people, people who went to bed hungry and whose children went to bed hungry.
I also learned that “The Poor” does not include folks who live by selling bits and pieces of their stock portfolio.  There is a big difference, and it’s not just in perception.  It’s in reality.


Filed under Conspicuous consumption, Criminal Activity, Elections, Family, Fashion, Humor, Hypocrisy, Politics, Stupidity

62 responses to “Hot Diggity Dog!

  1. Pingback: Pretty Please? | FiftyFourandAHalf

  2. Pingback: Sins of the Father | FiftyFourandAHalf

  3. Sigh, the stories from our parents; how I wish I could go back in time with a tape recorder. While the young stupid me is tuning out the older folk out, I’d be recording every word!

    Ooo, Mitt & Ann were able to afford TUNA? That ain’t poor. Poor is when meat, of any kind, is a once a week treat! Poor is when, like my older son, you finally call mom from the landlord’s phone and admit you haven’t paid the rent for 3 months and have been living on crackers made from SCRATCH!

    Politicians, pfft, hate the whole of ’em. BUT, I LOVE your writings! 🙂


    • Thanks, Eileen.

      Yes, I think that Ann and Mitt were a long ways away from poverty. They were even far away from being broke, which I think is different in that most of us are broke at some time or another. Living off of one’s stock portfolio doesn’t qualify as either!

      How on earth do you make crackers from scratch????


  4. It’s frightening what poor has become for so much of this country – people who are genuinely broke, yet have bought iPods or designer shoes or flat-screen TV’s because they’ve been convinced that it’s a necessity.


    • Our society has become so materialist and shallow. Stuff seems to be all that matters. You know, “the one with the most stuff when he/she dies, wins.”


  5. We heard a lot of stories like this as kids. And I can remember eating so many meals of “beans and weanies” as my mom called it. Don’t know how they did it with seven kids, all a year apart. So many memories. I can remember how we almost never got new socks. My mom would darn them and where the thread was all bunched up, it would rub or push against your heal. We didn’t complain or like you said, we would get the lecture. Still, I have such fond memories of childhood.


  6. I read this Romney story awhile ago, and, I remember distinctly sputtering with rage. Actually, I think I was more speechless than sputtering…. it made me realize just how out-of-touch with the 99% they really are. My parents both grew up during the depression, and, believe me, I heard many, many hot dog stories from them. Like you, it took me a long time to appreciate the point of the stories. For me, the understanding came when I ended up with nothing. I lived in a basement apartment (though, the landlord called it Garden Level.) It was small, the heat and plumbing pipes for the building we right above my head. I can remember the sense of elation I would feel discovering that the grocery store had Ramen Noodles on sale, or Kraft Mac & Cheese (it was usually the generic kind, but, it was especially joyful when it was the Kraft that was on sale!) So, I know what it’s like to wonder if you can go hang out with a friend, because you don’t get paid for a few more days, and there’s, hopefully, just enough gas to make it to work and back home. And, even I, having been pretty poor, know that I didn’t really have it that bad. Sure, sometimes I was a bit hungry, but, I always had a roof over my head, and, at least some food every day. Struggling is what people who go hungry for days at a time do. Struggling is what people who wonder where they’re going to find shelter do. Having to sell stock does not make you a Struggler. It makes you someone who still has more than most people do.

    Normally, I don’t pay much attention to political spouses. Yeah, maybe I like or dislike them, in a purely non-interested way (Like Nancy Reagan. I didn’t care for her, but, I didn’t dwell on it. I just never paid much attention to her.) Ann Romney, though. Wow. I find her to be very unlikable. Despicable even. She opens her mouth, and all I hear is Whaaaahhhh. Mitt is the one with policies and beliefs that I dislike, but, I feel that I would be respectful and polite if I were ever to talk to him. Ann, on the other hand, she has gotten to me. I don’t think it would be possible for me to say anything nice to her. She’s a spoiled, rich Bitch.

    Did you see her interview yesterday, saying no more tax returns would be released. She was so mad. If you watch her body language, you can see how angry she is, and, I would bet, from the signals she was giving off, that she was lying about a few things.

    I don’t want Mitt to be president, but, I really want her to Not be First Lady even more. She has no First Lady qualities.

    Sorry, I’m babbling… 🙂


    • Babbling is welcome, John.

      Ann Romney gets to me, too. The tax deduction for the horse she needs for her MS? You mean the one that she doesn’t ride because she is spreading Mitt’s word. And I imagine she is a liar — what else do you learn by spending 40 years with a pathological liar? I will not go on. (You’re welcome)

      I considered doing a piece on GOP spouses. They are Stepford Women, the lot of them. Cindy McCain (who I dubbed “Cindy-Lou-Who”) made me want to scream. And Laura Bush? Supposedly she didn’t believe in most of her husband’s beliefs but, natch, went along with them. Which level is her soul at. The only one who had any individuality or personality was Barbara Bush and she is a bit of a bitch.

      But election season is young … and it is aging me.


      • I sometimes wonder if women like Laura Bush, Cindy McCain –who, at least has spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage, Ann R, Callista Gingrich … I wonder if they just married for money, and end up not being able to leave because of the effect the divorce could have on a husband’s career. I mean, I know we’re a society where divorce is pretty normal, but, for some reason, we don’t want someone who’s divorced to be president (ok, so The Gipper was divorced, but, I think some people disliked Nancy simply for stealing him away from Jane W). We let our friends, neighbors, families get divorced, but, we look at a divorced person as a bad candidate for the highest office.


        • Not so much in this day and age, I don’t think. Cindy Lou-Who has all the money, and Calista is Newt’s third (or is it 4th) wife (and will remain so until she needs hospitalization when he will abandon her for someone of a younger plastic vintage.)

          No, I just think it is part and parcel of the whole who attracts whom thing. I once dated a Republican when I was young and stupid. I thank my lucky stars I didn’t marry him. But people are attracted to folks with similar values, at least in the long term. And these folks are all so vapid.


  7. Which basement did they live in, and did they leave any buried treasure there? I wouldn’t mind being their kind of poor…
    And all these years later, I’m amazed at how well my folks did raising 3 kids on their incomes.
    They probably would have gotten on well with your dad.


  8. John Erickson

    My dad is an incredibly handy person, and when I was young, I just thought that was the way he was. I found out in my teens, that he was the son of a single mother growing up during the Depression. He had to learn how to fix things, how to build good furniture out of crappy discarded wood, even to raising his garden, because he HAD to.
    Growing up, my sister and I didn’t have the latest clothes, or toys. What toys I did get, tended to teach lessons – like the Erector set, the plastic variant called “Klik-It”, and Tinker Toys. Yeah, we had some of the “family games” from Parker Bros. and Milton Bradley, but not a lot. And our annual summer vacation was always in the car, from motel to motel with kitchenettes so Mom could cook, instead of going out to restaurants.
    It was cheap. It was inexpensive. And we never really knew better, not even as we got into high school.
    Oddly, we never got the “walked to school in the snow uphill both ways” speech, despite the fact both my parents came from poor, broken homes. Now, “there are children starving in (insert your 3rd world country here)” was an almost daily commentary, but that’s a WHOLE ‘nother story! 😀


    • John, I am not sure that this comment is actually from you, even though I see the correct name and gravitar. But this is a serious comment. I’m shocked!

      I think growing up the way our parents did and then them raising us to expect to have to work hard for stuff is better than the way so many folks have raised their kids these days to believe that everything they do is perfect (even when it’s not). Strange world we have made for ourselves!


      • John Erickson

        Sorry, I came to your site after leaving comments at two sites of military folk feeling like America has forgotten them. That, and Sunday is a day I was really hoping to be in Hamilton, Canada for the 70th Anniversary of Dieppe and the 150th of my beloved Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. So I’m kinda ruminative today. I’ll try to be my old looney self tomorrow! 😀


  9. Oh, wait a minute, I fed my six kids on that cheap tuna in oil and pasta or rice and beans and it wasn’t that bad. Never has stock to pay for it though! That picture is sickening so are their false smiles on TV. He hunches when he walks like he is afraid he will get a tomato from the audience. Might happen if I was there! should happen anyway!


  10. Sniff, sniff….please don’t pick on Mitt and Ann. I truly, truly understand. I had a friend who once had to sell her 2 kt diamond ring just to make her cadillac payments for a few months until a judge determined how much alimony and child support her ex-husband would have to pay for her 2.5 private-school-attending children and poor little “snookie-wookie-wookums” the cat. It’s not a laughing matter.


    • Life really is tough for some folks, isn’t it. And I know that I am guilty of obliviousness sometimes, too. But then I don’t advocate policies that destroy jobs and take food out of poor people’s mouths. AND I pay my taxes (more than I bet you do too.


      • This comment got cut off when I went back to edit it. I did not intend to imply that I pay more taxes than you only that we both probably pay more than the measly 13% the Romneys pay. Sorry I sounded like an ass.


  11. Oh, this is the kind of material Jon Stewart would pay big buck for. Elyse, where is your agent? 🙂


  12. Clinton

    stock market = evil


    • Now now. There’s nothing wrong with having and/or making money.

      But for Princess Ann to say that they struggled makes me vomit. And want to slap her silly. But I would never be allowed through the gate!

      But the rich do have an obligation, I believe, to help the truly less fortunate (and I don’t mean folks like us). That is completely absent from these vultures. They should all be ashamed of themselves. Seriously ashamed.


  13. If I hear Mitt say one more time that he paid his 13 percent in taxes the last 2 years I think I’ll scream…my percentage is much higher than that, as it is most Americans. Although I am looking for a good off-shore bank that will allow direct deposit of my paycheck…


  14. This made me think of the wave of immigrants who came here with little money and belongs … and then going through the depression. Wow … they had to be second guessing themselves. But they made it, yet didn’t forget the lessons learned. And as the hot dog story lived on, it was real during those times – yet, unimaginable for those who didn’t live it.

    As for the Romneys, it’s all relative because “as compared to what” is the key that establishes the perspective … which is your point. 🙂


  15. My dad tells stories like that sometimes, and it makes me want to cry. I hate to think of my dad and his sibs being hungry. I have a memoir written by my great-grandfather which tells an even sadder story, but he was so chipper about it! Poor immigrants living in a one bedroom house with his sisters and their families. Altogether 20 people living in a one bedroom. They’d just throw down mattresses at night all over. My great-grandfather recalls the smell of urine from the younger children wetting the beds at night. Again, very cheerful about it.


    • How lucky you are to have your great grandfather’s stories! Even if they are a bit damp, that’s such important information. I’m pretty sure
      my ancestors who immigrated here were all axe murderers because none of them would talk!


  16. Your dad’s story reminded me so much of my father’s stories. He grew up not having enough to eat as well. And my grandmother would always tell us kids about the Depression era and having to stretch some thin stew over a week’s worth of meals. And she considered her family lucky they even had that! Really puts things into perspective.


    • We are clearly related, Darla! It is sad to me that the effect of these stories was boredom. What I wouldn’t give to hear about those hot dogs again! I’d listen, Dad, I promise! It sounds like you listened better to your grandmother.


  17. I really did enjoy your dad’s story…we all know there were some rough times back then…and they survived. So can we in these “rough” times. Hope to read more of your blogs. Thanks.


    • Thanks, Emilieann,
      My Dad had a story for just about everything. I’m afraid it’s genetic. I get those rolled eyes from my son all the time. And from my husband when I tell a story again.


  18. Mitt and Ann need a reality check before he happens to end up being our next Pres…or not..He can remain ignorant..too if he likes!


    • Oh, dear, Emilieann, I do hope he doesn’t become president. He is tone deaf to everything except the chink of gold.

      Thanks for stopping by and following me. Welcome!


  19. There’s a difference between choosing to live frugally and not having a choice. And actual poor people don’t have the luxury of deciding not to work while they’re in school — at least at my university, financial aid packages were calculated under the assumption that you’d work 10 hours a week during the school year and full-time over the summer.


    • Absolutely, Laura. Some must work, some must hold off college because of money and/or not go at all. And of course, the folks who are in school today are racking up debt that they may well carry to their graves (why they don’t just sell some of the principle, I’ll never know).

      Real poverty, which I never experienced, is where you have no food, your education options are limited. Where you need help to get out of it. The Romneys will never understand that.


      • I’m going off on a tangent here, but things are definitely different for students today than when I was in school. I racked up plenty of student loan debt, but the terms were different back then — at one point, the interest rate on some of my student loans was less than the interest on my savings account. And part-time / summer jobs were easy to come by.


        • Tangents are actively encouraged here, not to worry!

          But you are right that today’s students are in a much worse place. Being me, I blame the GOP for 30 years of destroying the American dream. And it infuriates me. As you can tell.


  20. I would love to put my cowboy boot up Ann’s English Saddle riding azz. I really would. Really, forgive me crassness, but both of them have their heads so far up their they are licking their nips from the inside! Really? So poor they had to sell their principal?

    Gad, what next? Was the Tuna just the cheap stuff in Oil?


    • Wait, Val. This piece was to engender sympathy for the Romneys. Are you telling me I failed?


        • You cut me to the quick.


          • To you I will crawl across hot coals to apologize for my lack of understanding your intent. It must be my complete disconnection from reality (oh no I might be related to Mittens).

            To you I will pour hot oil in my navel as I sing “I am sorry” I missed the point. I must be John Sununu, or maybe boy wonder in girl clothes with my failure to read between the lines and understand your point.

            But still, you were so subtle, your touch so soft.

            I still want to know, did they have to eat the cheap tuna?


            • I thought you got my intent — I thought you were being funny. Because even though I do not own cowboy boots, I would buy some for the pleasure of kicking Ann Romney in the butt with one of those pointy toes. Maybe both.

              But, Val, brace yourself. I think they did eat the cheap tuna. Packed in oil. And they probably didn’t even know enough to drain it!


  21. And they probably had to sell one of their televisions!

    Thanks for my new word of the day too. ‘Penury’ as in ‘They wouldn’t know penury if it came right up and polished their limo’ windscreen with an old sock’.


    • You know, Ben, back in those woeful times, they actually had to turn a dial on those TVs to change the channels. Life was that difficult.>

      And you’re right, they wouldn’t recognize penury if it swamped their limo. They’d likely think it a costume drama.


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