luxury and want

What con­jures thoughts of lux­u­ry to you? Nice purs­es? Hand-tai­lored suits? Expen­sive scotch?

For me, yes, those are lux­u­ri­ous items, but a much sim­pler lux­u­ry item is… Gold­fish. Yeah, the cheese crack­ers shaped like fish. I still feel a lit­tle self-indul­gent when I buy them. Real­iz­ing that has made me think about how our child­hood cir­cum­stances con­tin­ue to affect our think­ing as we are old­er.

Grow­ing up, my mom sup­port­ed our fam­i­ly of four on a pas­tor’s salary. She served con­gre­ga­tions that were made up of peo­ple who were most­ly mid­dle and upper-mid­dle class. I don’t know how much she made, and it’s not ter­ri­bly rel­e­vant. We did­n’t have mon­ey for new books (real­iz­ing that I could­n’t get the books I want­ed from the Scholas­tic fly­er is a decent­ly strong mem­o­ry), rarely went out to eat, and did a lot of shop­ping at Good­will.

My mom made most of my clothes until we moved to Ger­many. I did­n’t have my first pair of jeans until I was in sixth grade, and those were hand-me-downs from a boy in the church. I loved the cloth­ing she made me; she is a great seam­stress, and I was nev­er self-con­scious about what I was wear­ing, though… I do remem­ber a lot of pairs of pink sweat­pants. I would get a new dress for East­er, and it was kind of a big deal when she bought me one instead of mak­ing it. She stopped mak­ing my clothes when we moved, in part because fab­ric was so much more expen­sive in Europe.

Our snacks were not fan­cy — string cheese, home­made cook­ies (yum) — but she would some­times buy Gold­fish. I loved those things, but they seemed to only come out on spe­cial occa­sions. I felt real­ly high-class when I would get to eat Gold­fish, and that has stayed with me into adult­hood. (Now that we’re just a cou­ple weeks from East­er, I’ve been think­ing about how our plas­tic East­er eggs were filled with Froot Loops and sug­ary cere­als that were only in our house for those times.)

In spite of not hav­ing much dis­pos­able income in our dai­ly life (maybe because of it), we had an annu­al vaca­tion that would take us camp­ing in Yel­low­stone or dri­ving along the Pacif­ic coast while we lived in the US, and Italy, Spain and Por­tu­gal, Crete, Israel, or many oth­er places while we lived in Europe. My mom spent mon­ey on expe­ri­ences rather than stuff while we were grow­ing up, so even though we would take our own snacks and sand­wich­es to Dis­ney­land, we went to Dis­ney­land most years with her fam­i­ly. We trav­eled wide­ly in Europe, stay­ing in hos­tels and not being ter­ri­bly adven­tur­ous in cui­sine, fol­low­ing Rick Steves’ guid­ance and explor­ing on our own. It was an incred­i­ble way to grow up, and I’m hap­py to have those expe­ri­ences to remem­ber.

I now have a sit­u­a­tion where we have two incomes and no chil­dren, in a city with a rea­son­able cost of liv­ing, but I still hes­i­tate before I buy myself name-brand snacks or the lean­er beef. And Gold­fish, well, those are just spe­cial.