I was a little girl living in the projects in Brooklyn, New York. Mom worked two jobs, and I was the oldest of three. I still hear Mom’s voice in my head, “Carole Jean, you’re the oldest, so you’re in charge!”
What that really meant was I had to wear the house key on a chain around my neck, make the beds, make sure my brother and sister did their homework and start dinner.
This was in sharp contrast to my best friend, Bonnie, who was an only child. Bonnie’s mother stayed home while her dad worked. Bonnie wore nice clothes from “Young Folks,” a children’s boutique. I wore hand-me-downs until I learned to sew in Home Ec. and then I made my own clothes from remnants (end of bolt pieces at the fabric store). Bonnie’s mother played Mahjong, once a week. My mom worked Monday through Friday at the United Fruit Company and three nights a week at the Mattel Toy Company.
I loved going to Bonnie’s house. Her apartment was in a nearby section of the housing project about half a block away. After my chores were done and my two charges were safely ensconced in our apartment, I would go visit Bonnie. When Bonnie’s mom, Claire, opened the door my eyes immediately went to the coffee table in the living room. Every time. And it was always there – a glass candy dish full of Bridge Mix!
That they lived in the same low-income housing project that we did never occurred to me. They must be rich; they had candy on their coffee table! I was too shy to ask for any, but Claire was kind. “Carole Jean, would you like some candy?” she would ask. I would silently nod and take three pieces. I really wanted to gobble up the entire dish, but I only took three. I wanted to be invited back.
And I was. I was invited to outings with the family. We went to Prospect Park. We went to museums. We went to Aunt Kay’s, who was the most sophisticated, beautiful woman I had ever seen. She worked as a legal secretary. Back in those days, women dressed properly, which meant wearing dresses or suits with matching shoes, handbags, and gloves. Oh yeah! Aunt Kay’s shoes always matched her purse, or as we said in Brooklyn, her pocketbook. Sometimes there was even a hat! She was our idol and role model. If she could afford to dress like that, she must be rich. Hmmmm, now that I think of it, I don’t recall any candy on her coffee table.
I lost track of Bonnie for thirty-three years. Through the magic of the internet, we re-connected and became best friends again. I visited her in Florida bearing gifts. The first time I walked into her house, my eyes immediately went to her coffee table. No candy. I ran to my carry-on and pulled out a crystal candy dish and filled it with the bag of Bridge Mix I brought along just in case. She looked astounded until I explained; all these years, that was my measure of being “rich!”
My sister, Linda Sue, has struggled for years – financially, professionally, and emotionally. She changed her name to Jacqui Rainbow-Silver, then changed to Jacquie Rainbow-Gold, now it’s just Jacquie (I think). She was searching for her identity – her place in life. She is a good singer. Really good. If you close your eyes, and she launches into her rendition of “Bobby McGee”, you would think Janis Joplin had risen from the dead. She tried to break into the music world. For a variety of reasons, it never worked out. Still she struggles, but she doesn’t give up. And she works hard.
I became the fancy, successful, rich real estate agent with the nice house and luxury car. In her eyes, I had it all. In her eyes, it all came easily to me while she struggled.
Due to a series of events, I am no longer the hot-shot real estate agent. I no longer have the fancy house or luxury car. I am starting over having just moved back to the U.S. from Costa Rica. I have a blank slate awaiting a new chapter of my ever-exciting life. My sister, Linda Sue, came to visit me with her charming friend, Irwin. She came bearing gifts! There were all kinds of thoughtful items in the goodie bag, including a box of my favorite chocolates – See’s! I immediately put the box of candy on the coffee table, smiled, and thought, Thanks to my loving, thoughtful, and generous sister, I am, once again, rich!
As I struggle to re-establish myself, there are moments of self-doubt. All I have to do is look at the card she gave me and it renews my strength. Oh yeah, she stuffed some hundred dollar bills into the card – this from somebody who works very hard for the money. She has, as many of you have, over-paid me for my book, and bought extra copies to give away to friends. Such loyalty and support touches my heart and soul.
Even without the candy, I am rich indeed!