Did you ever hear of or see the hugely successful award winning miniseries for television called Rich Man, Poor Man ? It was based on the novel of the same name and was aired during the throes of the golden age of television, along with other hits such as Roots. The show was a breakthrough not only for this genre, but it also helped propel rising stars Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss to super star status. It is the story of two brothers, one rich and one poor, like the title states, as second generation immigrants of Post War America . But it is more about the personality dynamics and the life trajectory that these two men take. They may share DNA, but don’t necessarily share the same path.
I remember when it was on television and though I didn’t watch it myself, I recall all the hubbub about it. It just struck me the other day that for some of the readers of this blog, it can be a bit of a brain whiplash when I talk about going to food banks in one post and then the next about going to the Academy Awards show. So in a way, I am a real life “Rich Woman, Poor Woman”, except rolled into one person.
In my life I have gone from being middle class, to dirt poor, from wealthy, to average. I have owned homes and cars, and lived out of a car as my home. I have eaten from a soup kitchen and served food at a soup kitchen. And whether I am wearing a designer gown for a fancy awards show or wearing second hand clothes from a charity shop (where my very first bra came from) I am the exact same person. For some reason, I am not changed by the change (or lack thereof) in my pocket. It doesn’t matter what my bank account says, what matters is what my heart says. What it says at all times is to be giving. Even if I don’t have credit left on my bank card, I can still give the best gift, which is a smile, a hug and my love. They don’t cost a thing but from what the recipients tell me, they are the most priceless gifts.
In fact, I can honestly say that I am not the most comfortable when I am showered with the indulgences that wealth brings. For instance, the first time a limousine arrived to pick me up, (which I did not ask for, nor pay for myself) I actually got in the front seat. The chauffeur said as he opened the door, “Excuse me you are supposed to ride back here”. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him I preferred to sit up front with him. But we had a grand old chat on the way to my destination!
Another time I received a full length mink coat from my ex-husband. It was one of those “Cheat Treats” or “Guilt Gifts” as I coined them. But nevertheless it was beautiful and some of my friends said they would gladly have had their husbands sleep with someone else to get one of those. I didn’t recommend that method! I think I wore the coat twice. No offense, but it just wasn’t me. I didn’t see it for years while I paid for it to be in cold storage, but finally I donated it to the silent auction of a fundraiser. I was the philanthropic chairperson for the American Women’s Club of Dublin and that year our charity was the ISPCC. I didn’t tell many people working with me on the campaign that I actually donated it. On the program booklet it was listed as an anonymous donor. But I was delighted to see it raise money for a good cause, and the lady who bid on it and won was over the moon! For me it turned something sad, ugly and painful into a positive. Most importantly, children in need were ultimately helped by the money raised. They might never know this story, but certainly they have their own stories.
Years ago I was looking after the children of some dear friends. These friends happen to be massively successful and wildly wealthy. They lived in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles in a mansion complete with its own stream running through their expansive wooded back garden. On this day in particular, their kids were playing out back an asked me if they could take off their shoes and walk in the stream. Sure, why not? Then, as kids do, they began using their imaginations. They said, “Let’s pretend we are poor shoe less children walking through a steam trying to find food.” I didn’t have to do too much pretending to reminisce back, albeit I didn’t walk through streams as a kid. But it made me laugh thinking how children use their imaginations for all sorts of things. Rich kids or poor kids!
I used my own imagination many times as a little girl when I was up against the wall as I have shared before. Once when I had a friend over to our hovel of a home I remember saying, when she asked what was behind my mom’s locked door, “Oh, that goes into our other wing of the house”. I suppose I was trying to let her believe we had this enormous castle, just not in eyeshot. NOT! But I don’t think it would have been prudent to tell her that was where the drugs were stored! Hey it’s all perspective isn’t it?!
In the mid nineties I was in the Philippines with my ex husband. We were staying in a very posh hotel, you know the kind with one billion thread count sheets and chocolates on the pillow every night. When we left the hotel to go sightseeing we passed some impoverished areas. Literally like slums. I began crying as I saw these kids playing outside barely clothed. I didn’t want to go back to the billion count thread sheet hotel. I felt like they should have those luxuries too. My ex husband pointed out to me that the children seemed happy playing with their ball and stick. They didn’t know they were missing out on toys that some kids had like Nintendo. I had to agree with him. The kids looked happy as their granny carefully watched them while they played. Their big sister was there to hug them and tickle them. I realized something. They may have been poor in material things, but they were rich with love.
It is much harder on people that have had money and success to deal with losing it if they have been attached to it. I’ve witnessed many people struggle with that in my lifetime. After my divorce I took a sabbatical from acting for a while and became a preschool teacher. It was a more conducive job to have as a single parent raising teenagers. It was actually one of the best professional experiences of my life as I love children and appreciated the opportunity to be an integral part of their precious lives. As preschool is their first foray into the social realm of school, I felt lucky to be their tour guide! I worked at a school on the westside of Los Angeles and there were many children of celebrities and wealthy parents. Personally I didn’t mind being a teacher to the children of people I had previously attended black tie affairs with or hob nobbed with at country clubs. But one teacher had difficulties with that juxtaposition.
Grammy award winning singer Jody Watley decided to put her music career on hold and began teaching at this same preschool. She was absolutely beautiful physically, but was even more lovely with her warm and caring demeanor towards the kids. She was appointed my co-teacher and I had high hopes we would have a great year with our class of three year old students. But it only took a few weeks for the shock and pressure to affect her. It was too overwhelming for her to be in a quasi subservient role to the record executives and talent agents for whom she had previously earned money. As these were the people who would have taken percentages of her record sales during the height of her success. I suppose when you are not selling records anymore and instead wiping their snotty nosed kids it is a bit humbling. The students were gutted when she quit and I missed her too. But I understood. Yes being a teacher is hard work and for little pay. But I think the rewards are great! However, money isn’t my motivation so it is easy for me to say that.
The Irish have a saying that a person isn’t buried with pockets. Basically it means you can’t take your money with you. And certainly we aren’t born into the world with fistful of the green stuff. Somehow though, it becomes an obsession for some, a longing for others. But I hope people will realize that it is our relationships that matter more than our bank accounts. Our experiences are what we can savor more than our stuff. Even experts agree about that! And mostly that LOVE is the one thing money can’t buy, yet it is what we all need and want and it never goes out of style! There will always be people with more, and people with less. In our own lifetimes, as I have experienced, money comes, and it goes. But when you count your blessings instead of your cash you’ll have lots more happiness!
Rich with Love,
P.S. So you’re thinking, hey wait where is the recipe? I thought for today I would share a recipe link as opposed to writing it out. It is a recipe for a monkfish dish. Chosen because monkfish is the poor man’s version of lobster. However, it is in a gloriously rich cream sauce. So you too can have a Rich Man, Poor Man dinner if you decide to make this! I first came across this recipe while I was attending the Ballymaloe Cookery School. It really is a lovely treat! I think you too will enjoy this Monkfish with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce!