POST 10: Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law

Our trailer was a 900 square feet aluminum rectangle with three small bedrooms, one bathroom, kitchen, living room. Each room was a tiny square. The outside of the house was brown aluminum siding and the interior walls were all cheap, fake wood paneling. The counter tops and the cabinets were all made of low-budget and flaky particle board. During the earliest years of my childhood Bud made a real effort to keep it clean. It was by no means Spic-n-Span, but it wasn't horrific... like it later became. We didn't own a ton of things either - a few toys, three small beds, a couch, a small kitchen table, one color TV, two dressers, and a seldom used washer and dryer. I knew we didn't have the luxuries that some families had but when you are just trying to survive, luxuries aren't something you dwell on. I am sure I sometimes complained about not having this or wishing I had that, but all-in-all I was just happy when I got dinner and a hug on the same day.

When I was ten years old, Frances came home to stay for a while. One of the many, many times she was in and out. Bud had gotten a part-time job cropping tobacco and with his additional money and her small disability check, I suppose they figured they were doing alright. So it made sense when one Saturday we loaded up the old Monte Carlo and made the twenty minute drive into town to engage in what any good American does when things are bleak and you have a few dollars: Retail therapy.

Our little town didn't have much to offer in the way of cute boutiques and shops which was just fine. We spent the morning perusing the newly built Wal-Mart. Aisle after aisle of plastic and cellophane-wrapped items guaranteed to bring fleeting happiness. I don't remember what we bought but I can assure you it was unnecessary and cost far more than we could spare. Eventually we made our way across town and passed by the Heilig-Meyers furniture store. The large banner in front of their warehouse read "FREE HOT DOGS!" This was too great of an opportunity to pass up. How could we just drive past a "FREE HOT DOGS!" sign and not turn into the parking lot? I am sure the salesmen saw us coming a mile away. We looked like the perfect candidates for some manipulative fast-talking. The salesman greeted us with a hearty "Hi, Y'all! Come on in and get a hot dog for the kids." What beautiful teeth you have, Mr. Salesman... The doors quickly closed behind us and Bud and Frances didn't stand a chance.

The sweet, leathery smell of new furniture was highly enticing. Everything looked like it was straight from a magazine. The pillows were perfectly fluffed on every display sofa. The beds were perfectly made on every display bed. The china cabinets housed just the right amount of beautiful, sparkling china and crystal. Every piece of furniture looked inviting and like the exact thing needed to make a house into a home. I was so careful with my hot dog as to not let even one drop of ketchup land on the dazzling tile floor or the upholstery of any recliner. I made my way to a metal chair off to the side of the store to eat my delectable free hot dog. Meanwhile, Bud and Frances were getting the VIP tour from a salesman who had my parents squarely in his scope.

Bud and Frances always wanted to be just like everyone else. Maybe they couldn't afford to keep up with the Jones' but they could at least make an attempt to keep up with the Johnsons. Frances fluctuated between living with us and leaving, between being normal with a growing family and running away from her problems. This happened to be a day when she thought, "You know? Havin' a family won't be half bad if it means I get new furniture." She had a split second thought, as we each have from time to time, "If I could just get some of this stuff, I would feel so much better about my life." Wrong.

Bud and Frances had virtually no money. I can remember times when Bud would say something like, "I don' even have two dimes to rub tuh'gether," and he meant it. Literally. Between the trailer payment, electricity, food, clothing, gas - they did not have money to spend on new furniture. Nonetheless, in a society of "Buy now. Pay later," even people like Bud and Frances qualified for a sizable credit line. Oh! The commission that was earned that day! And after an hour or so of navigating their way through row upon row, display area upon display area, of expensive furniture, they walked out with a delivery date for the following week for a truck load of stuff sure to make their lives all better and a mountain of newly acquired debt which they had no means of repaying.

Some consumers might look upon buying furniture as a major investment, something only to be done a few times in a lifetime. They might scrimp and save for the perfect sofa or bed for months and then spend weeks shopping for just the right style, size, color, and fabric at an affordable price. Furniture shopping can be a long, exhausting, and tedious process. It can be. Not in this case. Our items had been bought with no thought as to how they would fit in the trailer. No thought as to what was affordable or even needed. It was a totally reckless purchase. And the following week when the bright green Heilig-Meyers truck brought all of our new furniture, it was a day better than Christmas.

All morning the delivery men worked moving boxes and items in and out of that tiny trailer. The doorway to our house was itty-bitty and it caused the workmen considerable stress trying to figure out how to get these huge, bulky items into our house undamaged. I watched these men work, fighting with door frames, juggling cabinets and beds. Bud and Frances beamed. We're getting new stuff! What could be better than this? When the delivery truck finally pulled out of sight by the early afternoon we were in hog heaven. Virtually every free inch of the trailer was adorned by some piece of new furniture - three tall wooden curio cabinets, a brand-new stereo and CD changer, a new bunk bed for my brother, a new brass bed for me, two bicycles (apparently they sold bikes?), a Nintendo game system (the orginal one), a new sectional sofa, new chairs, a new dining table. NEW! NEW! NEW! Our house was covered in oversized and overpriced furniture. Frances and Bud were delighted. I was delighted, too - a new bike and a Nintendo isn't a bad score for any ten year old.

The next week some of my neighborhood friends came over to our house and when they saw the out-of-place furniture they looked puzzled, "Where did you guys get all of this stuff? Are you rich?" I assured them we were not rich, but they remained confused. How could we not be rich and yet have so much new stuff? I shrugged. I didn't know how it had happened but it happened. I didn't question how it got there or how Bud and Frances had paid for it. I was just a kid enjoying a few of the finer comforts in life.

However, as things always did where Frances was concerned, nothing could make her happy enough to stick around for too long. After a few weeks of playing house with some life-sized doll furniture, she left. Tobacco season drew to an end and Bud was out of work. No more paychecks. No more disability checks. The only money that would now flow through our house was a modest welfare allotment and whatever few dollars the family sent our way.

A month passed. Two months. Three months. Frances was gone, but our material possessions remained. No amount of "stuff" replaces the sting of an absent parent, but we didn't preoccupy ourselves with thoughts of her. There's no point. We just enjoyed our new bikes all day and played Mario Brothers all night.

Then after a few months, the same green Heilig-Meyers truck came rumbling down our street. More furniture? What could we possibly be getting now? Bud met the truck driver at the door. It was clear from Bud's face that today's visit was not going to be as exciting as the first. A new word was being introduced into my fifth grade vocabulary: Repossession. It was awful. We watched them load up everything we had bought just a few short months before into the back of a moving truck. I didn't know the Repo Man could take away my bike! I didn't know the Repo Man could take away my Nintendo! My bed! Where am I gonna sleep?! When those men finished emptying our trailer of all those earthly treasures, I stood in the middle of the floor staring in disbelief at the little dents marked in the carpet where "stuff" used to be. It wasn't the worse feeling I'd ever had by far, but it was upsetting just the same. A lump started to develop in my throat and I could feel myself getting ready to cry, but I didn't. Such is life. If mothers can slip in and out of your fingers, why not furniture?