My youngest son, left a few days ago, to start his final year of college. Not one to waste time, and always planning on the future; I grabbed my trusty tape measure, and went into his room, to possibly procure a few ideas on converting the large space into my own personal, and incredible man-cave. Entering the supposedly, deserted room, I came upon my wife frantically moving about, and taking her own meticulous measurements for what were most likely, new blinds. Discretely hiding the tape measure behind my back, I said, “Honey, what ya doing?” She replied, “I was just thinking how this room would make a wonderful office for me, and we would still have room for a crib, for when we watch are granddaughter.” I sighed, and headed to the basement, to see if there was enough room to pitch a tent.
Measuring the basement ceiling height, from a cold concrete floor to exposed wooden rafters, I stopped for a moment to ruminate about, not only my son’s entrance into a new, uncertain, and challenging future, but my own ventures into a big and scary world. By this time next year, he’ll be out on his own, and facing some of the things I had encountered after leaving the relative safety and comfort of my parent’s home. For the first time in his life he’ll be dealing with a pressure-filled, and unforgiving work environment, bills, sleepless nights worrying about bills, an empty refrigerator, packing lunches that make high school food look like a gourmet feast, and more bills piling up on the kitchen counter. Oh, I almost forgot – roaches. Can’t forget those darn pests. The more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder. Were they really the good old days?
My first job out of college, was as an assistant soft lines manager in training for a major retailer. It sounds kind of impressive, until you find out it means, I was underpaid, overworked, and one small step ahead of Bud, the eighteen year-old stock boy. The first store I worked in was far from my parents, and I needed to find a place to live. I will always remember my first apartment. As I walked through a large barren space, devoid of any furniture for the first time, I recalled thinking how spacious it was. It was so empty you could hear the echo of your own voice. Six months later, I remember thinking the same thought, as I viewed a practically empty apartment with a few yard sale items, including a fraying couch, and a rickety old table, with an ancient television precariously perched on top. The amazing thing is, I could still hear an echo, as I said, “This place really sucks, sucks sucks…….”
Do you know the exact moment, when I realized what a wonderful life, I had left behind, after moving out of my parents’ house? No, it wasn’t opening my lunch at work, to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – with no jelly! It was when I used some of the money from my very first paycheck as a free and independent man, to buy curtains. I could finally replace the blankets, which had been temporarily covering my windows for two weeks. You know things are tough, when a salesman comes to your door, looks past you into your apartment, stares for a moment, pauses, and says, “Sorry to disturb you sir. I’ll just be on my way.”
I have a few questions, I’ve never really had answered, and have always wondered about. Maybe, one of you can answer them. What the heck, is in Ramen noodles, why are they so cheap, and, and how can a young adult, possibly survive for months on them without having severe vitamin deficiencies? Ah, the good old days. To be fair, I did have some wonderful times, met lots of great people, and learned the value of hard work. On the other hand I did learn valuable lessons, including that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. I made a list of a few questions you might ask yourself about your carefree days, as a young and independent person, facing a new, exciting, and wondrous world for the first time.
Did any of you own a car that was in such bad shape, if it broke down, you just abandoned it, because the cost of towing it, was more than its value? How many of you got a flat tire, put one of those tiny, temporary donuts on your car, and drove with it for six months, until you could afford a real tire? Did any of you eat in famous restaurants with world-famous chefs, or were the only chefs you ever encountered, either the person flipping burgers at McDonald’s, or Chef Boyardee? How many of you, like me, would cook an entire turkey, so you would have a boring, but reliable food source to survive on until the next paycheck? When it was finally, totally consumed; did, what was left, resemble a recent kill from a pack of hungry hyenas? How many of you had a highly complicated system of managing the thermostat in your apartment, during either hot or cold weather, to avoid massive electric bills? Did you keep it off between ambient temperatures of 45 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit? Were there warm sweaters and thick parkas, or tiny swimwear nearby, depending on the season?
Before I move on to another simple observation of everyday life, I have to tell you about my second apartment. My employer transferred me to a store near New York City, which as we all know, has a very high cost of living. I remember walking in to view it for the first time, and thinking I had walked into a janitor’s closet, and then realizing it was the apartment! On the bright side; when my parents came to visit, the tour of the apartment took less than ten seconds. I said, “There’s the combination bedroom and living room, the microwave, and chair in the corner are the kitchen and dining room, and behind that curtains the bathing area, and restroom facilities. Please do me a favor, and don’t go in there. Now let’s go to dinner – I’m starving.”
I guess my life back then, wasn’t too bad. I learned the values of hard work, responsibility, and thriftiness. Eventually, I got a better job, saved my money, got married, bought a house, and raised and prepared two sons to follow in my path. For all you young adults, who are still living with your parents, I have some advice. Please, and I mean this sincerely. Thank your parents every day for all they do for you, help with the chores, buy some groceries every now and then, and for the love of God – don’t leave. You don’t know how good you have it!