I come from good middle class Canadian stock. My dad had a desk job at a big factory and my mom worked part-time in retail. My parents are the first generation to be middle class. My grandparents on both sides were lower income. I would also like to be middle class but I am struggling to stay there.
My fraternal grandmother came from a fine old Canadian family in a big city and everyone lived in large wonderful homes. She came to my city to visit relatives and met my grandfather a hard working ex-cavalry officer who didn’t have much money. A love match but not a money match. An upper-middle class family sent their daughter to live in a small city in a big house after the proper society wedding.
My fraternal grandmother moved in with her new husband and her new in-laws in to their very large house. The reason the house was so large was to accommodate all the borders. My grandmother went from having staff to being chief cook and bottle washer for the family boarding house. My grandfather worked at a dry cleaner pressing shirts and a grocery store delivery groceries.
When my father was small things were at an all time low for the family. My grandfather had a friend who was a turnip farmer and if it wasn’t for all the free turnips the family could eat there would have been no food. Even the boarders ate turnip 3 meals a day. Turnip hash for breakfast with an egg if the hens were laying. Fried turnip for lunch with a piece of day old bread. Baked turnip mixed with bacon grease for dinner with beans or some other food that was marked down or damaged from the grocery store my grandfather worked at. There were variations on the menu but you get the idea.
After my father married my fraternal grandparents were able to divide the big house in to a series of apartments and life improved to what may be considered lower middle class. There was always food to eat and money for the collection plate at church but there was no travel or large purchases.
When my parents were married my father told my mother that she must never serve turnip because he had a job and could afford other food. My parents were married over 30 years before turnip was served in their house. It turns out my father is very fond of turnip.
My maternal grandparents were low income as well. They were both immigrants and came with nothing and died the same way. My maternal grandmother’s parents were missionaries and she came to Canada to work as a domestic and got a job as a cook in a big house. She moved to my city when she married my grandfather.
I never met my maternal grandfather. He died before I was born but I think I must be a lot like him. He was a very cautious person and missed out on a lot of opportunity because he was afraid to take a chance. My grandparents lived in row housing, 8 units in a row, in a lower income area of town. Not a bad area just an area of working people. My mother said the mice were so bad that they wouldn’t run when she opened the pantry door unless she screamed and stomped her feet.
When my mother and her sister were small my grandfather had saved a lot of money and the owner of the row of houses they lived in asked my grandfather if he would like to purchase the his row. My grandfather thought that real estate was too risky an investment and held on to his money. I am a lot like the grandfather I never met because I am afraid to take chances. There could be failure if you take a chance but there is no great success without risk.
My mother and her sister always worked but not for pocket money but for money to help with the household expenses. My maternal grandparents never made the daring leap to home ownership as it was always too risky.
My grandfather died when my grandmother was in her 50s and without his income my grandmother had to move to a rent assisted bed sit in a nice row house for seniors. There was an auction of most of her possessions on the front lawn of the row house to raise some money. Luckily we are Canadian so the government gave my grandmother a small monthly pension. My grandmother lived a long and happy low income life. My mother and my aunt had to help her financially her entire life. She never had any money to take chances with.
The fear of being very low income and wondering where the money for food would come from was a strong influence in my parents lives. They worked very hard but wanted to supply their children with the extras that they never had.
The difference between the way my parents did things and the way many people do things now is my parents saved for things. Credit was for cars and houses not summer camp and hockey and Christmas presents. My parents are the disappearing middle class.
I do not have the income level to match my parents careful middle class lifestyle. I do have food in the house every single day and I only have mice in my garage occasionally but they never come in the house. I own my house and don’t rent because home ownership is a better investment than rent.
It would not take much to push me from my lower-middle class lifestyle to someone who is bordering on poverty the way all my grandparents were. Sometimes hard work is not enough to keep you from being lower income.