Reading these — it really *does* highlight the differences in socio-economic strata, even in the USA. We were “don’t always have food, sometimes living in the car — and then some jerk crashed into our car” poor, when I was growing up. I wound up on my own (and note — I’m quadriplegic, albeit fortunate enough to also have had access to both a love of reading, and various computers, from an early age, courtesy of a variety of factors) — anyhow, on my own from the age of fourteen onwards. So, yeah — beyond the occasional “second grade sings *that song* and tries to get your name right” adventure, birthdays for me and my mom were largely of the marker-pen on notebook-paper handmade card (in both directions), with much love, and hope that the next year would bring improved circumstances. The worst one, though, by far? And yes, we should have known not to be so naive … My dream, as a child, had been to work with the manned space program.
Science nerd, Jr. Mensa, and you don’t need legs in zero-G, right? Maybe even a Mission Specialist, someday, on the Shuttle? (Pipe dreams, but hey - I was a gifted eleven-turning-twelve-year-old, and who knew what might be possible by the time I grew up, right?) Anyhow, I managed to win/earn a scholarship to the U.S. Space Academy, which was basically a longer/more involved version of Space Camp. There was even a short summer internship with Teledyne Brown, to include building some circuit boards that might actually get used in the Program. The only problem was, I was in California, and the opportunity was in Huntsville, Alabama. So, my mom (let’s be honest, here — my *Mommy*) packed up our most important belongings, whatever would fit into our 197-something Chevy Nova —- and we up ship and headed off to new frontiers. Car threw an alternator just as we limped into town, leaving us helpless (no funds to fix it with, nor anything of monetary value to sell to do so). Only to discover when we got there, that the person who had approved me for the program was no longer employed there, and hadn’t kept good records — and the program wasn’t computerized, their bookkeeping was still on paper, so the records for me/my offer were lost. We wound up stuck in Huntsville for over ten months.
I was too young to legally get work (though I babysat, and found under-the-counter retail work), and the only work available for my mom as a female over forty (despite having been amongst other things a college professor and a licensed general contractor) was either as a maid in a motel, or fast food counter clerk. They also tried to remove me from her custody twice — once for truancy (I had a note from the health clinic documenting that I had laryngitis, Pharyngitis, *and* bronchitis, and excusing the absence), and once as an unfit parent because I wasn’t in Christian church three times a week (kid you not) — Apache on one side, Jewish on the other, but not actually practicing nor legally required to be!?! Skipped out ahead of CPS, headed back across country, and were just at Amarillo Texas, when the rear bearing froze and the axle sheared, removing rear driver-side wheel, flipping our Chevy diagonally, bashing in the passenger-side roof about a foot, but fortunately our seatbelts worked. A trucker broke the seal on his load to get us and what survived of our luggage as far as Bakersfield, and then we called an old teacher of mine to give us a ride back to the city we’d started from almost a year before… So, yeah. Those two, would be the worst. And no, I’m neither lying nor embellishing.
Everything above, happened. To me.
Yeah, first-world problems. At least we had oatmeal, ramen, and a car to live in.
And each other.
*Trust* me, I _know_ how lucky I had it. Believe me, I do.
Likewise, that she raised me to *read* — saved my life and sanity, in oh, so many ways.
A debt I could never dream of repaying, save to continue to try to pay it forward (community literacy programs, computers for schools and libraries, books for kids, reading for the blind, etc — any chance I get…)
What you are about to read may change you forever.
by Matt Stopera
Never forget that “safe D begins with me.”