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By LaKisha Cargill
Clad in my forest green plaid jacket and matching skirt, I walked out of class to head down the steps, but as I placed my foot out to descend, this girl appeared out of nowhere. We had never spoken before, but sometimes I would catch her looking at me. Big and burly with plaits scattered on her head, her eyes moved from my head to my toe, and she said, “Y’all rich or something?” Her voice was questioning, while her eyes seemed as if she had already made up her mind. And I was sure she was about to punch me. But when I answered no and she spent what appeared to be an eternity with her eyes locked on mine, she finally allowed me to pass.
At the time, I didn’t think much of this encounter. But as the years have passed, I’ve realized this has stuck with me. As an adult, I know my answer to her question would be different. No, we were not rich in the ways she meant, but I felt richly whole. I had a wealth of joy.
Life was simple. I looked forward to the little things like receiving a gingerbread man cookie from Pizitz on Fridays or making a paper harmonica out of my empty Lemonhead or Boston Baked Beans box. We didn’t have a car, but I went everywhere I needed to go. My favorite memory is of my mom and me, hand-in-hand, running down the hill to catch the bus downtown on Saturdays. We would inevitably end up at my favorite hotdog haunt, where I ate two hotdogs all-the-way with a bag of chips and a Grapico. I knew my mom worked hard. And my grandparents were always there to help. My grandmother walked me to school and met me at the corner afterward. There was always a hot meal waiting on the table.
Money never crossed my mind as a child. Not because we had it in abundance. But because my mom and my grandparents showed me how to make the most out of what I had. I grew up in a time before Instagram. Facebook and MySpace did not exist when I was little. Thus, I didn’t get a glimpse into people’s lives, the stuff they had, or the lavish lives they led. And I honestly didn’t compare myself to others. But this incident with this bully in fifth grade was the first time I realized that others did.
At the time, my child’s brain didn’t know this was about money. And it didn’t make me think about what it meant to be rich. But looking back, I now see that this encounter boiled down to the notion of the haves and the have-nots, or at least a bully’s perceived idea of such. While I didn’t realize it then, this showed me how other people could place you in a category regardless of whether or not you belonged there.
No, I wasn’t rich, and I’m still not, but I am wealthy.
My life is whole. I still relish the simple things like sitting for hours with my best friend talking and watching the cars go by as the rain falls, and spending time with my grandmother learning how to make sweet potato pies or cooking butter beans. My love for gingerbread men cookies is now second to my love for Orange Creamsicle Milkshakes. Although I’ve traded the bus for a car, a train, or a plane, I love exploring new lands near and far with my family. I’m forever on the hunt for the best hotdog, and I still make music with my Boston Baked Beans boxes and cherish every moment I spend just talking and laughing with my mother.
The things that make my life complete have little monetary value, but they are priceless to me. I urge you to find those things in life that delight your heart, give you something to look forward to, or that, if you lost your money today, would still bring a smile to your face. These moments I share with my friends and family provide an abundance of joy. Spending more time connecting with family and friends or walking in unison with nature, I’m sure you will find that you are wealthier than you ever imagined.
LaKisha Cargill is an Alabama creative who loves sharing her voice through written and spoken word. She is a freelance writer, essayist, poet, and blogger at www.sizablechic.com.