The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Ronna L. Edelstein of Pittsburgh shares what she really knows about making ends meet.
It was the perfect summer evening for porch sitting. Pretending to play with my Ginny doll, I was actually paying close attention to the conversation among my parents and grandma. Past experience had taught me the value of eavesdropping.
On this particular night, Mom, Dad and Gram were reminiscing about the good ol’ days. The more I listened, however, the more confused I became. What was “good” about those olden days, when my mother had to give up her dream of becoming a teacher in order to earn money selling housedresses in a department store basement and my dad had to sell his blood to pay for optometry school? For Gram, did having to work 12 hours every day in a family grocery store while also raising two boys and taking care of a house truly define “good”?
“We did what we did to make ends meet,” I heard Gram say.
I put Ginny into her shoebox bed, turned to Gram and asked her what she meant. Rather than giving me a wordy explanation, she took my box of chalk from the card table and led me to the sidewalk.
“Try to draw a straight pink line from this crack in the cement to that crack,” Gram instructed me. Then, standing parallel to my pink line, she continued, “Now, draw a straight blue line from here so its end connects with the end of the pink line.”
No matter how many times I drew my pink and blue lines, I could not get the ends to meet. With a hug and kiss, my grandma stopped my futile attempts before I yielded to total frustration.
Handing me two new pieces of chalk, Gram said, “This time, draw your lines, but don’t worry about keeping them straight. You can add curves and angles—anything you want just as long as you make the two ends meet.”
Within seconds, I had succeeded in creating a Jackson Pollock-esque picture of squiggles and loops that ended with both colors melting into one another.
“Great job!” Gram exclaimed. “Now you know all about ‘making ends meet.’ It is not giving up in the face of challenge, but it is using every talent and idea and ounce of energy you have to deal with obstacles in a positive way.”
I have spent my entire life doing just that.