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