Just Because You're Poor Doesn't Mean You Have to be Stupid

by Rachel Dickinson

My mother was always an intrepid traveler, which seemed odd because in other aspects of her life she is so passive. For her, I think getting in the car and heading out of our tiny village in Upstate New York was a way to escape poverty. With the windows open and the radio blaring and a cigarette propped between two fingers she'd begin the journey, which was often home to Washington, D.C.

We loved those trips. She'd buy us each a 25 cent comic book and we'd spend hours poring over each luridly-colored frame and then trade. With four kids, that meant a lot of BAM POW KAZAMM as we headed south.

"Keep your feet up," she'd say. This was after I lost a sneaker through a hole in the floor boards of the old Chevy. We had to turn back and find it because those were the only shoes I had.

In Washington she always made sure we went to the National Gallery and a couple of the Smithsonians. "Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be stupid," she'd tell us.

My favorite trip to DC was right after the race riots in 1968. We cruised slowly through neighborhoods that were still smoking and gawked at the store fronts that were still intact and had "soul brother" scrawled across them.

My mother still keeps a car in her driveway even though she can no longer drive. I know it’s because it’s the escape hatch and as long as it’s there, all’s well.

Rachel Dickinson's latest book is Falconer on the Edge: A Man, His Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape of the American West (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

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