Rich or Poor? Dirty or Clean? And Other Philosophical Questions

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The youngest four of  the eight Stephenson kids, Donny and Jimmy,( fresh from a dirt ball fight? ) and Janice and Kathy, left to right.

The youngest four of the eight Stephenson kids, Donny and Jimmy,( fresh from a dirt ball fight? ) and Janice and Kathy, left to right.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it does it still make a sound? You know that old question that everyone banters around just to have something to throw into a conversation when nothing else is happening. Some people perceive the question from a purely physical stand point and attempt to give a science based answer about ear drums and vibrations and so on. Others assume that the question must surely be philosophical and run with it, kind of the way I attempted to play football in those childhood games over at our neighbours the Derbyshire’s. I would be thinking “Don’t throw the ball here! Don’t throw the ball here! I won’t know what to do with it!’ And then they would! And I would run with it, and not know which way to run with it, and still run with it, until out of the corner of my eye I’d see somebody coming up beside me and not knowing if they were on my side, I’d run some more, and then I’d crash into a tree. “If a kid hits a tree on a lawn with their head and there is no mother there to hear it do they still cry?”

So, what if we go in the philosophical direction that the tree in the forest question very likely was meant to go, and consider whether a thing needs to be perceived to exist? What if we ask another question entirely? If a child grows up in a big family with a lots of kids, and they don’t have much of anything but all of them are happy, and nobody ever told them they were poor are they still poor?

You may find this hard to believe, but it’s the honest truth. One of my siblings said this to me only a few years ago “We were so poor when we were growing up Vonnie. Weren’t we?” and I actually cranked my head to look at her where we were sitting side by side, just like someone who is overacting “surprise” in a school play. I was so taken aback. That I should remember the actual moment she said that, in that much detail, will tell you that the reaction was due to an “Aha! Moment”, as Oprah Winfrey would say. My surprise was actually over the fact that we differed in our perceived realities.

To me, being poor in the days of our childhood would have to have been about total destitution, about not having anything more than rags to cover our bodies with, or a bed to sleep in at night. It wasn’t about whether or not we had what we eventually learned a lot of other kids had. In fact, we likely had a lot more than other kids in our very own neighbourhood had. It was a farming community where many of the older families had spent years trying to make up for ten years straight of nothing but financial loss during the Depression, just to get on an even keel again. As well, there were the post- war immigrants who had come into Canada nearly penniless, struggling along on the cheapest and therefore the poorest of all the farms. On the tilth-less Caradoc Sand Plains there were more than a few of them.So what did poor look like in the 1950’s or early 60’s?

What if your Dad has to go to the hardware store and buy some glue, while you wait in his red truck with your sister and brother, and for some reason, because your brother doesn’t have some kind of electronic game in his hand (as they haven’t been invented yet) and he sticks his head out the window and howls at a passing dog and keeps on howling until a whole bunch of dogs eventually come and gather around the truck until your Dad comes out and yells at him, is that because you are poor? If you aren’t, then maybe your brother would at least have had a pocket full of dinky cars to play with instead. Wouldn’t he?

What if your Dad has to reattach the sole of one of his shiny black shoes with glue, because they are the only pair he has that he likes to wear to parties for people who have passed? Does that mean he is poor? That Funeral family must have a lot more money than our family has, to put on so many parties at their house for everybody who has passed. They put on so many Passing parties that lots of people only get theirs later on and not at the end of the school year! Daddy never seems to know what grade people are going into when I ask him.

What if you have to go to the Barber Shop with your Dad because your Mummy is at the hospital again with a head ache that she got real bad while she and Daddy went there to pick out a baby sister? What if you are so happy that your Dad’s barber has given you and your brother and sister each a piece of Bazooka bubble gum as a treat that you decide to save it for later and just enjoy looking at the comic until Dad reads it for you? But then your hand is so sweaty that it starts to feel sticky and you decide to chew it and it makes you so happy! Is that what rich feels like? Does that mean that you are going to be poor again when it’s too hard to chew anymore and you have to spit it out? You can’t be poor! You still have all those nice lumpy pieces of hard gum stuck behind your bed!

What if your house doesn’t have a shower sticking out of the wall and it only has a bathtub and you never had a real shower? Does that make you poor?  What if your Mom says that it’s OK for you to stand under the eaves trough where the downspout isn’t connected anymore, and you get to run around under it with your clothes on because its raining, but there’s no lightening going to hit you on this day, and it must be almost much water as at Niagara Falls hitting you on the head, are you rich or are you poor? If you were rich, your mother would probably never let you do this. She would say “Take a shower in the house! You don’t want all that bird poop water hitting you on the head!” Poor rich kid!

Well, one last question—“If you are covered in dirt from having a dirt bomb fight with your brother, and it rains and you get to stand under the water coming out of where the downspout should be, and all that water is coming off the roof where the birds probably did poop sometimes, and so it probably is just bird poop water, are you dirty or are you clean?”

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