I never knew Poverty had such an ugly face–until I met Rich. I had just turned seven when my parents first told me about Rich. The way they described him he sounded like a cool guy. When they told me we were actually going to go live with him, I got pretty excited.

It was just a couple weeks later that we moved in with Rich. We never again went back to visit Poverty. I don’t even recall we said a proper goodbye. We just packed up the few things we had, moved from Noti to Seattle, and moved right in with Rich. We didn’t tell Poverty where we were going because we didn’t want him to follow us and we had no intention of ever seeing him again. We certainly didn’t think we would miss him.

My parents were pretty happy when they first met Rich. I was happy too because he fed me food I’d never tasted before. He bought all of us lots of things and even took us on great vacations. Gave us indoor plumbing! It didn’t take long before we all learned to love Rich since Rich always was giving us so many things. I still remember that first Christmas with Rich. He bought me so many things I didn’t know what to do with them all. I just took them to my room and put them under my bed.

Sometimes I imagine that Poverty is following me, hoping to be friends again. When I look back he’s not actually there but I do start to remember again how it was when we lived with him. I’m not sure Poverty was that bad of a guy, actually. Oh sure, he didn’t bring us very many things, and the food he gave us was a little scarce and kind of plain, but our whole family talked more then, had more fun. He seemed more real than Rich. I mean Rich bought us lots of things then; he still does; but he is just not that friendly. He’s just Rich, and for some reason when he does try to be personable he just seems so…plastic.

Some have told me I’m fortunate to live in the same place as Rich. I guess so. But I don’t remember that we were all that unfortunate when we lived with Poverty. It’s just that things are different now. Before we lived with Rich I never knew you could buy food in little aluminum trays, inside a box, that just popped in the electric oven and you could eat while watching TV. I had no idea toilets could have little handles that sent water shooting through until Rich gave us a house with indoor plumbing. I was completely unaware that vacation is something you did once a year, taking you to places far away, but Rich took us on lots of them. Rich gave me all those things then and he is still giving me lots of things. The only thing he asks in return is that I take good care of the things but even when I don’t, or even if I lose what he gave me, he just buys me a new one. My house is stuffed with things Rich has bought me. Every time I move I realize just how much stuff that really is. Oh, I’m thankful to Rich, and the things are nice, but sometimes it just seems like a lot of work keeping track of it all. I sometimes worry that my things will end up missing. I think some of them are. Rich doesn’t ever get too upset though, he just buys me another one.

Not long ago I saw Poverty again while I was on a trip to Mexico. It seems he must have moved there after we left. I don’t think he even recognized me. Rich was with me, and the two of them don’t have much in common, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with Poverty. I wanted to see how he was doing, what he had been up to but Rich kept reminding me of the places I had to see and things I was supposed to do. I guess I just didn’t have the time to stop and talk to Poverty or the family he was living with. Part of me wished I had. Perhaps I could send Poverty some money later, I thought then. I don’t remember if I ever did.

Once I saw Poverty again, his face was much uglier than I remembered as a child. The family he was with didn’t seem to care though and, in fact, they were having a small party. They all seemed to be genuinely having a good time. Everyone was smiling and laughing, the kids played in the dirt, and the adults watched them play while they talked. Poverty still didn’t give many things it seemed but, strangely, none of them seemed to care. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Rich had assured me so many times he was making me happy with the things he was buying me. I think this may have been the first time I began to wonder if Rich was right. I wondered if he really was making me as happy as I thought. These people seemed so much happier than anybody I knew, including myself.

I thought about that family in Mexico for a long time afterward. One day I just asked Rich why he didn’t make me happy. Rich simply pointed to everything he bought me and looked perplexed. “But what about those people in Mexico living with Poverty”, I asked Rich, “Why can’t you make me happy like that?” Rich merely shrugged his shoulders, scratched his head and walked away. He didn’t even say a word; like he didn’t care about my question. He just seemed cold and distant; made me feel empty, depressed and lonely inside.

I couldn’t get Mexico out of my mind, so I drove back to the place I used to live with Poverty. I wanted to see if I could remember being happy then; like that family. It took me a full day of driving to get there and find the old house, but it was still there. Even the outhouse and the chicken coop were just as I remembered. The fence that held our goats had rotted away, mostly, but you could still make out where the posts had stood. I peeked in the windows of the house. A few had been broken out and all were dirty. I looked through the cracks in the walls. No one lived there anymore, and it still slunk to the right just like it used to. It didn’t look much different than when I lived there as a child. Even the porch, still intact, dipped toward the ground in exactly the same way. Most of the roof had fallen in and, for just a moment, I thought I heard Poverty calling me from the kitchen window. It was just an illusion but my mind began to race with memories and slipped back to 1959. I remembered again the cold nights my family huddled together under blankets and told stories trying to stay warm before falling asleep. I remembered waking up in my mother’s arms, feeling her warm breath on top of my head, my dad outside already feeding the goats and chickens before hauling their manure to a large pile in the back. As I stood there I almost thought I could smell breakfast cooking. Fried corn meal mush again. I even thought I saw my brother motioning for me to come and play through the hole in the wall.

Something brushed my back and I woke from my daydream. It was Rich. “Come on, we gotta go. This place is ugly.” he said, “Who’d want to call this place home? We can stop at the mall on the way back. I’ll buy you something. Make you feel better. You look depressed.”

Rich was right. I was depressed and a few tears had even begun to trickle down my cheeks. Not because of the ugly place I used to live but because, in some small way, I actually missed Poverty a little. Poverty had taught me a lot about love, family, survival and I never really thanked him for that. Poverty had kept our family together back then and I didn’t even know his face was so ugly. I just knew my family was everything to me and when Poverty lived with us he made family seem so important. He always made sure we needed each other more than we needed him. That gave us no choice but to love each other. If our family had not loved and cared for each other then we would have frozen, starved or possibly died. I thought for a moment how cruel that really was and realized how truly ugly Poverty is compared to Rich. But while Poverty was cruel and ugly, it was also true that Rich never really paid much attention to me or anything else. He just wanted to buy things and, unlike poverty, he never did anything to hold our family together. I looked at Rich’s face intently for a long moment. He did have a much better face than Poverty, but maybe that is just because Poverty never cared about his own face. He just made sure we looked good to each other. It left me with a lot to think about.

I knew Rich was right though. I could never stay here. I wanted to stay a little longer, remember just a little more though since it felt good to remember those days living with Poverty. I stayed for about another hour, walked in the woods where we used to play and then looked back towards the road. I realized, as I looked back I had known Rich far too long for this to ever truly feel like home again. I knew I probably really wouldn’t want it to be.

When I drove home I knew I would once again be among the things Rich bought me and be back among the luxuries he afforded. I knew I could still enjoy those things but here at the old place the faded memories warmed me on the inside. They were memories of a tight knit family that struggled together for survival. They were good memories, filled with love and I didn’t fully understand them that day. I was completely torn. I missed poverty yet I was drawn to the life with Rich. It’s true the things he bought me over the years never made me happy for long. They never once gave me warm memories like this.

Rich looked impatiently at his watch as he stood by the car, waiting to take me back home. His artificial tan, gold showy rings and great looking clothes looked totally out of place here. There was no doubt he had a lot of appeal, but now I felt more distant from him for some reason. I began to wonder if he was truly my friend. He barely looked my direction, while he continued looking impatiently at his watch, wanting to go.

I knew I had no choice but to go back with him. My life was now entangled in the Rich way of living. He was part of me now. I turned toward the old house one last time to see if Poverty was really standing out there somewhere. He wasn’t. I saw only glimpses of an ancient memory that brought another tear to my eye as I turned to leave. Rich looked appealing in his fancy clothes and shiny rings but in an odd way he also made everything around him look much uglier than it really was. Even me.

————————

I think often about that day I returned to my old home and the life I lived with Poverty. Rich and I have had quite a few discussions about that day and Poverty. I’ve even suggested they speak to one another; see if they could find some common ground. He is against it and I don’t think they ever will meet. I know within myself that I would never want to live with Poverty again; he is ugly and cruel; but there is also part of me that is tired of Rich and his self-centered ways. I admire both Poverty and Rich but, I fear, that is an odd admiration since they are so very different. I heard recently of a city not far away where there is a great prophet that resolved this same dilemma and could teach me many things. Someone told me his name was Simplicity. I’m headed there tomorrow to find out what he has to say. I’m hoping that maybe Simplicity might have the answers I seek.

pov·er·ty (povÆÃr t”), n.
1. the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence.

rich (rich), adj., -er, -est,n. –adj.
1. having wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds; wealthy:

sim·plic·i·ty (sim plisÆi t”), n., pl. -ties.
1. the state, quality, or an instance of being simple.
2. freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts.
3. absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.; plainness: a life of simplicity.
4. freedom from deceit or guile; sincerity; artlessness; naturalness: a simplicity of manner.

Copyright © 2007 by Scott Haas – All Rights Reserved.

Advertisements