Living a spartan existence in a cultural desert like this does not lend itself to deep or stimulating posts, but I try to derive some meaning from even the insignificant, mediocre things I can experience here. If nothing else, working class Ohio on a budget has been… educational!
I moved here directly from the more progressive and educated east coast. I shopped at Whole Foods (for my mother) every single week. I helped with the local farmer’s market, and provided my mother with a healthy kosher (i.e. more expensive) diet. Almost everyone I knew was educated, world-savvy, and liberal-minded. I got to know people from all over the world, and most people spoke several languages. A high percentage of people were professionals who commuted to and from NYC. Nice homes were beautifully landscaped and maintained by armies of contractors, and there were huge trees everywhere. I myself had had to quit my job in another state to caregive on a low income, but I was still surrounded by privilege, and unconsciously spoiled by it.
Then I came here to the midwest, and the rest is history. Culture shock on every level! It’s hard to convey the challenging process of being gradually reduced by circumstances to extreme basics. At first, we occasionally splurged and bought a few things at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or at one of the nicer Krogers in more affluent neighborhoods. But eventually we had to settle for the tiny basic Kroger in this redneck working class town, and even then limit spending to necessities.
Don’t look down your nose until you try living on a retired fixed low income. On my own, I’d be screwed. It really opens your eyes to reality. And then you realize you’re one of the fortunate ones, who can afford to eat and pay bills at all. Once in a while, we can even eat out at a casual eatery, or buy a few trinkets or gifts. Mostly we struggle to put back whatever we can after rent and necessary expenses, so as to eventually be able to move out of here and buy a small place of our own. There is no buffer between us and unforeseen setbacks. It’s a shaky balancing act.
But please don’t think I’m asking for pity. My point is actually the opposite. This paring down process may have been uncomfortable, but yet essential for transitioning from my old mindset to an entirely different life. It’s so minimalist that I’ve begun to appreciate every little trifle that I used to take for granted.
If I get to mow the lawn or cut some flowers or veggies I grew, it’s a big event. If I exchange pleasantries with the simple but friendly employees I’ve gotten to know at local businesses, I appreciate the human contact. Accomplishing a healthy balanced meal from whatever staples we have on hand is a creative challenge. Editing and publishing wildlife photos I’ve taken at local parks, though very amateur, gives me a sense of connection to the limited nature we have access to. Having all this time on my hands provides an opportunity to work on my writing, however simplistic and superficial the topics. Just some examples of making the most of an austere situation.
You may be thinking, must be nice to be retired and have all that time on my hands! Be careful what you envy! Life can be hard on either side of that divide, when you’re poor and restricted in what you can do. I’m fortunate just to still have most of my wits about me (a few wits got misplaced somewhere), relative health for now, and shared incomes so I don’t find myself homeless, a very real possibility. Killing time waiting for circumstances to allow you to proceed with your life is a bitch. I don’t recommend it.
But I have to admit, I’ve learned a lot about real life on the Kroger side of the tracks. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.