Hard to see around the next corner when you’re limping down a straight stretch. Some people never look ahead. Some do okay, but just okay.
I never believed in class. One time it didn’t matter. An old friend said to me not long ago, ‘We always figured the poor people lived towards the water, the closer the water the poorer the people.’
My family lived in the valley bottom just above flood line. Our water was undrinkable during spring. The train was the only thing between us, coal dust banks, rushes, yellow-striped-snakes, water’s edge and washed up fish.
He’d meant us. It never occurred to me we were poor. Even now I have a hard time believing it. We slept in a frozen house. Ate what we shot or caught. Never considering there was anything different.
After he said it, I remember my friend going on holidays to Hawaii with his parents. When I was twelve I only had two friends who did this. The other was a European baker’s daughter who developed breasts in the seventh grade. I remember missing them when they were away – her breasts and my friends. They went at different times during the winter. They would come back tanned with stories I wasn’t interested in.
I wanted to run the tracks to where the rivers emptied; cast lines for char and start driftwood fires. I’d try and talk them into coming with me, but their mothers or fathers were always picking them up.
It’s an odd thing to finally realize you were of a lower class growing up. If I had of known I may have tried harder or fought to get out, to make a better life. Isn’t that what you hear – about the guy who grew up with nothing and is now a millionaire?
The funny thing is the wealthy bought up all the waterfront property, getting it cheap from the indigent. It’s been bought and sold plenty since, every time they divorce or trade up. My old friend lives on the water, bought with inherited money in a spot once inhabitated by the poorest of the poor.
As for the baker’s daughter, she’s probably still running on a beach somewhere, tanned breasts bouncing to the crash of the waves. At least I like to think so.
Tomorrow I’m walking the tracks to those same fish holes that always seem different to me. I’ll count the birds. If the rain kicks up I’ll stop under a bridge. It’s tough to leave the past behind or see around the next corner. I know it now but still don’t feel poor.