I missed the memo about dessert and upward mobility.
When I was in college, the young woman who lived in the adjoining room, let’s call her M, was a real sweetheart. She came from a good family, and they were a little protective, so they came to visit often. When her folks came to town, M could round up her friends and M’s parents would treat the gaggle of us to a nice dinner at a restaurant near campus. This was wonderfully generous in and of itself, but it gets better.
I had the good fortune of being invited along on one of these dinners and as the extensive dessert menu was presented, M’s father took a quick look and decisively said, “Just bring us one of everything and we’ll pass them around.” As a great lover of desserts, I was absolutely delighted by the largesse of this gesture.
I grew up in a working class-ish family and when I went to college, I started catching glimpses of how more “privileged” kids had grown up. Part of me recoiled at the idea of having a housekeeper or spending money on a luxury car or a designer purse…these kind of things were a little offensive to my slightly socialistic sensibilities. I convinced myself that people with money were soft and self-indulgent….whereas people without money were sharp and resourceful. At the time, this was probably a healthy bit of defensive thinking, I think, but it threw up some roadblocks in the way I connected with some of my more well-off peers and it limited my imagination of how my life might ultimately be different from my parents’.
But when M’s dad ordered all those desserts for a giggling gaggle of co-eds, I thought, “OK, wow, this is why it’s good to have some money.” Money can buy stuff, but it also buys experiences, and I think that was the real lesson for me. M’s dad wasn’t trying to be a big shot, he just wanted his daughter’s friends to have some fun and enjoy a fantastic end to their meal. And he didn’t seem to worry about how much it cost.
Until I finish paying off law school, I really won’t have a pot to piss in, so for now I’m holding pretty tenaciously to most of my frugal, working class sensibilities. But theoretically, I’ll be ascending the socio-economic ladder a bit in the coming years. I’m no longer so afraid that having a bit of money will make me soft or self-indulgent. Even if I have some money, I can still be liberal. I can still be low-key. I can still be me. No one is going to force me to buy a Bentley or a Prada handbag. But maybe I will buy all the desserts. And pass them around. Memo received.
© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball
Jamie, reading this gave me such a strong sense memory of being 3000 miles away from home for college and LOVING when parents (usually dads on business trips) would come visit and take us girls to dinner. I also had cousins of my mom’s living a couple towns over and they would come fetch me for Sunday dinner, which always included cocktail hour, steak and huge baked potatoes, and great dessert. It’s lovely when money breeds generosity, and small gestures that mean so much to some homesick teenagers.
Indeed. Even for strong kids, the constant strain of self-sufficiency that college requires can be really exhausting. When parents swooped into town and did a bit of nurturing, it really was such a sweet bit of respite. We’ll have to remember this for when our kiddos fly the coop!