Every week, my granddaughter and I drive down Clark Street into Andersonville to an appointment. And every week, there he is, approaching cars stopped briefly at the red light hoping for money. I have never seen anyone roll down the car window to give him anything, but I guess someone must because he claims this intersection as his.
Despite the horrible weather this month, winter officially begins today with the winter solstice. Because it’s the shortest day of the year, it will be dark when we encounter him at his corner. Most cars won’t even see him, but I know he will be there. I assume it’s because he has nowhere else to be. I imagine he has no home. And I know he needs money. I just worry that money will not help, that he will use it for drugs or drink and return to begging at his corner tomorrow.
I know. I could keep a supply of gifts cards for food in my car. Truth is, the light is short and he doesn’t approach my car, maybe because I have a kid in it. I would have to motion him over and hand him what he doesn’t really want. He jingles the change in his cup because it’s money he really craves.
Growing up in small ranch house outside of Detroit, I had some awareness that there were people that had less money than my family. When we drove through poor neighborhoods, I felt guilty about my very middle class existence. While my brothers shared a room and we all shared a bathroom, there was always enough to eat, a car to drive, and new clothing every season. I’m sure there were plenty of families that were wealthier, but I didn’t envy them or aspire to have more. I felt blessed to live comfortably and guilty about those who did not.
Even coming from modest means, I was able to attend the University of Michigan. I saved money from summer jobs and worked part time on campus to cover expenses. I married a man whose family worried about having enough money to live an unpretentious, middle class lifestyle. As newlyweds, we had very little money and lived in a small basement apartment, but that seemed normal to me. We had those important things: food, shelter, clothing, a car. We even had a color television set my grandparents had given us as a wedding gift.
Life was good to us. Our children grew up not having to worry about money or save summer earnings to go to college. In fact, back in the 1990s when they went to college, we could afford to pay for their educations. Only one had to take a loan for post-college education. The others earned enough as TAs to get by.
I wish I could say the same will be true for my grandchildren. My children are doing fine, but they are part of the generation that will earn less than their parents. For them, money is a real worry. Partly, this is a phenomenon of there being more “essential” things to buy: large televisions, electronics, cell phones, etc. But they worry about how they will afford college for their children, and so do we.
Of course, money does not assure happiness. But lack of it makes life precarious and people less healthy and safe. So on this darkest day of the year, with winter officially beginning, I worry most about those who are homeless, cold, and hungry. Donating to coat and clothing drives and to charities makes me feel better, but they are still out there suffering. For them, money is needed for basic survival.
Growing up with limited money but enough to ensure my health and safety, I’m saddened to watch my children scramble to provide their children with what came easily for them. I have a hard time watching the ever-widening gulf between the haves and have-nots these days. When Trump’s cabinet picks have more wealth than one-third of all Americans combined, somehow we have gotten way off track.