From Poverty to Polo to Politics

Chapter One
THE EARLY YEARS


Sitting in my cottage in the heart of opulence in Palm Beach, Florida, it’s difficult to think back to the early years of growing up in poverty during the late fifties, and the hard tasks that would lie ahead. Two loving parents ameliorated my situation, along with five supporting brothers and sisters. Because our house was in great disrepair, I think many suspected that the shack we grew up in had been abandoned. My mother, father, and five siblings shared a twelve by fourteen-foot cabin. I was the youngest of six children, and I am sure that it was easier for me since I didn’t know what being poor in Okemos, Michigan represented.

My father quit school when he was in the 8th grade to work on my grandfather’s farm. I’m not sure when or where he got the training, but he took title to a master carpenter. I would watch him agonize for days on end over a lathe to make a new spindle leg for a chair. Dad never knew how to charge customers for his hard work, he was way too gracious, and that got to be a problem. Consequently, he would work on a single chair for several days’ and only made a small pittance.

Our little cabin featured two rooms and a hallway. The hallway contained a small refrigerator and a sink, which had a hand crank for getting water. My three brothers and two sisters slept on four bunk beds in one room, while my mother and father, with me between them, and my little sister using a chair for her bed, slept in the other room. When I recall our sleeping arrangements, I smile knowing how romantically delightful that must have been for my parents.

Our cabin had no indoor plumbing, and trekking to the outhouse in the middle of a Michigan winter wasn’t fun. For me as a four-year-old, it wasn’t traumatic, but for my brothers; Dick twelve, Don fourteen, and Jim fifteen, along with my sisters; Marge eight and Terry ten, this had to be tough. The old shack was built on the shallow ground, making it extremely prone to flooding. One night during a strong rainstorm the cabin flooded, the water had risen to two feet deep. I remember standing on my parent’s bed so that I wouldn’t get wet. The rainstorm got to be the last straw for my father, and shortly after that; we moved to a new house that seemed like a mansion at the time.

It was a three-bedroom home with one bathroom. The 1,600-sq ft. home cost $16,000. It had indoor hot and cold running water, a toilet, and even a shower! What a step up. My sisters had a bedroom that they shared, and my three older brothers also shared a room. I bunked in with my sisters. Finally, my parents had some much-needed privacy. Our cabin had no indoor plumbing, and trekking to the outhouse in the middle of a Michigan winter wasn’t fun. For me as a four-year-old, it wasn’t traumatic, but for my brothers; Dick twelve, Don fourteen, and Jim fifteen, along with my sisters; brothers; Dick twelve, Don fourteen, and Jim fifteen, along with my sisters; Marge eight and Terry ten, this had to be tough.

The old shack was built on shallow ground and extremely prone to flooding. One night during a strong rainstorm the cabin flooded, the water had risen to two feet deep. I remember standing on my parent’s bed so that I wouldn’t get wet. The rainstorm got to be the last straw for my father and shortly after that; we moved to a new house that seemed like a mansion at the time. It was a three-bedroom home with one bathroom. The 1,600-sq ft. home cost $16,000. It had indoor hot and cold running water, a toilet, and even a shower! What a step up. My sisters had a bedroom that they shared, and my three older brothers also shared a room. I bunked in with my sisters. Finally, my parents had some much-needed privacy.