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Sophisticated white trash. Highfalutin trailer trash.
I often in jest have described myself this way.
“There is truth in sarcasm.”
I grew up on a family farm in Southern Maryland. I had what most people from the outside world would consider a normal, middle class life.
My father, mother, and I, along with my younger brother and sister, lived in an old trailer on my great grandmother’s farm. It was a long, plain, faded mustard yellow trailer with brown trim.
We didn’t have central a/c or heat. We had window shakers in the warmer months and kerosene space heaters in the cold. A few times, I remember my dad opening our oven and us sitting around it to get warm. He told us how he grew up poor and often had to do the same. He made it sort of an adventure for us sitting around the stove.
I grew up with my cousin Kris, living right in front of us in the “big house,” as it was called. It was the main old farm house on the property that Kris’ mom had inherited. Kris was my best friend as a cousin. My other cousins Lisa, Kelly, and Bonnie lived behind me in a nice newer home. Just behind them were my cousins Erin, Kurt, and Laura.
We all grew up together in our elementary years. We lived an idyllic, sheltered life it seemed. We rode our bikes all day and ate pears from the old pear tree across the street from the farm. We would play in the tree fort our uncle built. We climbed the tall whisky pine trees on the farm.
Our dear neighbor Ms. Raleigh, who was a tenant on my uncle’s portion of the farm, used to buy painted rocks from us that we carted around in egg crates.
Twenty-five cents for the lot of them. Ha! What a great sport!
We didn’t come in until we heard our moms say it was supper time. For the most part, I was a happy child with a great life, up until the third grade that is.
All of my birthday parties until then were with my family. After all, I had enough cousins to have a huge outdoor family gathering. By the third grade, I had made meaningful friendships and I couldn’t wait to have them over to my party on the family farm.
That was, until I went to theirs.
The first classmate party I went to was my friend Stepheney. My mom pulled me up to her house. A large, brick rambler with a circular driveway. It was so pretty. It was the first time I can really remember playing the comparison game.
I didn’t want to, I didn’t like the feeling. Alas, it wouldn’t go away.
The second party I went to was my friend Mae. Her home was even larger. A beautiful, white, majestic looking home. As I walked up to the door, I had a sinking feeling that I distinctly remember. I am not like them. If they see where I live, they won’t like me anymore. I felt what I now know was shame.
Where does it come from? Is it some indwelling manifestation? We know it’s not cultural as every human being has felt it at some point in time. It became a part of my identity from that moment on. I internalized it and let it define who I thought I was. It was like an infection. No, a virus.
It didn’t stay with just me. I let others treat me the way I privately saw myself.
Fast-forward through my gut-wrenching teenage years (there is a whole book to be written on that alone) and time warp to 2013.
I have at this time been married for 13 years and was on baby girl number three. I wed a handsome, smart, young man my family would often say. He was our sole provider at the time. I was exactly what I always wanted to be—a wife and stay-at-home mom. I homeschooled too. I was determined to be what my mom couldn’t be.
After my parents divorced, she went to work. We didn’t get to see her often. I was determined to change that pattern.
My husband Brian had just left his job as lead supervisor from a big web hosting company after over a decade. We were living on his severance package until he could find something else. Something else didn’t come. He decided a career change was in order and went out on his own as a licensed loan officer.
What we weren’t prepared for was that it’s a relationship-based business, and Brian had been working an hour and a half away from our community for the last decade.
He was making it, but it was tough. During this time, the economy crashed and the housing market was at a standstill. I saw him start to break. He was worried.
I felt helpless. I had no skill, no trade.
What could I offer? How could I help?
That night. The night I heard him praying, I lied to him. I told him I know longer wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. That I needed something more. I said I was ready for a career in the Real Estate world and wanted to try my hand at it. He said babe, I know that’s not true. I persisted it was.
I signed up for the classes.
I really enjoyed it. In fact, I thrived. I had strong relationships in our community, and I enjoyed helping others so it was a win-win. I won Rookie of the year my first year, and by the following year, I had won “Diamond.”
Something changed in me. The success. The title. I was really somebody now. I wasn’t the girl in that mustard yellow trailer anymore. I kept working harder and smarter. Two years in and I was a top realtor now. We were making a lot of money.
My husband then left the lending world to join me in the Real Estate world. We made even more money. We had respect. We bought a house on the water. Our daughter was in private school. We were giving to charities. We were pillars of our community.
I told my husband the next thing I wanted to seal the deal on my success was a Mercedes Benz. It was the cherry on top for myself. Or so I thought.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love that car…but I no longer loved me.
It can make you forget who you are and make you become who you think you should be. My Gram June always said to me, “Val, don’t ever forget where you come from.”
In southern terms, that means stay humble and stay true to who you really are. I never ever have thought I am better than someone else, but I have thought plenty on how I wasn’t as good as someone else. Even with that Benz and the house on the water, all the money and awards. It wasn’t what I really wanted.
It just silenced the shame of who I thought I needed to be.
I started to miss my children. I wanted the simplicity of answering to them and not my Real Estate clients. I wanted to go back to homeschool field trips and messy-hair-don’t-care-days. I began to realize my success was in being a mom and stay-at-home wife. I transitioned out of the head realtor on our Real Estate Team and let my husband handle that role.
I am now the marketing guru of The MayerGroup of exp Realty. A fancy title with not much meaning. My MVP title is mom. It doesn’t make much money. I am more stressed some days than I was as a full-time realtor, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.
I’m proud that I let go and came back to my heart.
I often think back on my days growing up with my cousins on the family farm. Living with my mom and dad, brother and sister. Making mud pies, climbing the whisky pine trees, and warming up by the oven in our ugly, mustard yellow trailer. And I miss it so much.
I wish I could go back for just one day to the little girl I was at the birthday parties and say, “Stand firm in who you are. Hold true to the dream God puts in your heart and never doubt your worth. I’m no longer ashamed. I am thankful for how I grew up. It shaped me into who I am today and how I treat people. I would however give up my Mercedes Benz for one night in that old mustard yellow trailer with my family.”