Hi, I’m Anna Runkle, also known as the Crappy Childhood Fairy. As many people know, I talk a lot about growing up poor. Now my family was a certain kind of poor. We weren’t like trailer poor and we weren’t like refugee poor. We were more like addiction poor, where we started out kind of middle class and educated, but then we started sliding down the ladder. As alcoholism took over my parents’ lives, it turned them from nice people into people who weren’t very stable. Then it took away their reasonableness, and then it took away their marriage, and then it took away their incomes. Then we stopped having the kind of money you would need to have things like vacations or trips to the dentist, or even utilities or car repairs. Eventually, there wasn’t really any sense of safety at all.
But, there are things I learned from growing up poor, by myself or with other kids, that have actually made my life really rich. First, we learned have to be tough. I don’t mean like street tough, because I was never like that, but like strong tough. We had to learn how to get ourselves to school, how to get our own homework done, how to feed ourselves, how to take care of younger siblings, how to stand up for ourselves with bullies or pervy relatives. We learned cool things like how to make a bike out of junk or how to make furniture out of stuff in the backyard, how to build our own forts, how to get some sleep in a noisy room, how to sleep in a car. Growing up poor gave me a sense of confidence maybe sooner than it came for other kids that no matter what happened I would be able to deal with it.
Another thing I learned being poor was how to be entrepreneurial. I figured out really young, starting when I was nine years old, how to start making some money. Because pretty soon into school, I wanted to start buying my own lunch. I qualified for free lunch and I was really embarrassed about it. Back in those days, they made you say a number. My number was 92. That was my lunch number. You had to say it right in front of everybody, and I was so embarrassed to be a free lunch kid that I would skip lunch. As soon as I could, I started making money to buy my own lunch. Even though I pretty much spent it on junk food, it gave me some pride to be able to do that. I did it by starting my own business.
By the time I was 15 I had started like four or five businesses doing things like babysitting, yard work, house painting, dog training, typing services, selling flowers on street corners, selling necklaces I made, selling baby sharks I harvested from dead sharks, housecleaning, selling baby rabbits that I raised. I put on magic shows for a quarter. I was always thinking of a way I could make some money. And you know what? As an adult, I have my own business. Having a business, because of my childhood experience, is kind of like second nature to me. I’m really grateful for that.
The best thing was I learned to be resourceful. Me and my friends knew how to work a thrift store like a salesperson works a room. We’d start at one end and just work our way through and go through like a machine through every item until we found the one thing that was really chic. In fact, I think that’s what punk was invented for, was for people like us to be able to be really cool, but for less than a dollar! We were like punks who knit, the punks who still clean up real nice so that they could keep their babysitting gigs. We were like punks who had our mothers’ hoopty cars out and had to push start them out in an intersection in the middle of the night, in high heels, in the rain.
I grew up poor, so I feel like I can do anything. I don’t always fit in everywhere, but I can have a conversation with anyone and feel something of what they’re going through. I’m not saying that I would choose to be poor, but if I had to go through it all again, I would still want to be like this: strong.
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