This morning, as I was reading the comments left on a recent post of a blog I frequent, I noticed that two of the commenters had gotten involved in some juvenile name-calling because they didn’t agree with each other’s points-of-view. One of them referred to the other as living in a trailer park. In the context of their insipid, online catfight it was crystal clear that her comment was meant as an insult, implying that the other commenter was trashy and, therefore, must live in a trailer park. Her comment made me cringe. And it stung. A lot.
You see, for a better part of my life, I resided in a trailer park community with my parents. And that community was as close to storybook suburbia as I have ever come in my life.
I didn’t grow up with money. Heck, we weren’t even lower middle class. We were a hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck family. My mom worked in an office; my father was a self-employed truck driver. There was no way we would ever have a two-story, four-bedroom house with a family room, kitchen island, and multi-car garage. However, we did have a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath mobile home, with a living room, large eat-in kitchen (yes, a real kitchen; not a hot plate and a mini-fridge), laundry room, and two-car driveway. Sure, the closet space was tight, but I had my own room, half-bath, and private phone line. Our community was well cared for, the homes always maintained and the tiny “yards” manicured. My mom, with her green thumb, even kept a colorful little garden just outside my bedroom window. In my little room wallpapered with Duran Duran posters, sitting on my bed doing homework, with MTV playing in the background, I didn’t know that my home was different than everyone else’s. It wasn’t until I heard the phrase “TPT” being said about someone else – someone who actually didn’t reside in a trailer park – and asked what that meant, that I realized that living in a mobile home was considered a lowlife thing.
Knowing that made me ashamed about my home. I became evasive when asked where I lived. “Just off 14th avenue and 29th” became my stock answer. When my friends started getting their drivers’ licenses, the offers of rides to the movies or the mall started coming in. But I never let anyone come to my house. Either my mom would drop me off at their house, or I would walk the two blocks to the closest apartment building and meet them just outside. I never invited anyone to hang out at my house, never had a house party, never let anyone drop me off at home. I was not a popular kid at all, and as a chubby, drama-club teen, it was hard enough to maintain some semblance of a normal social life. The last thing I wanted was to be considered “TPT” or to be treated differently from my peers.
When I graduated high school, I pretty much lost touch with everyone except my three best friends. And then I realized that it just didn’t matter. I had worried for years about what other people would think of me as a person, how they would judge me, based on my home. Because I didn’t live in a normal house, like everyone else I knew. I was an idiot.
Who cares that our walls were made of aluminum instead of brick? What mattered was what happened inside those walls. Inside those walls were memories and moments that had nothing to do with their location. Inside those walls were family dinners and Christmas trees, birthday parties and Sunday breakfasts. Inside those walls I had crushes and first phone calls, babysat my niece and played Barbies with her, helped my mom make dinner and set the table. Inside those walls my family sat together at the dinner table every night and told stories. Good or bad, every single moment in that home meant something.
For so many years I worried about being considered “trash” because I lived in a trailer park. What I failed to see was that my life was far from trashy. There were no drugs or domestic squabbles, no wife-beaters or appearances on “Cops.” My parents chose to live there so that they could give me as normal a life as possible. Living there was affordable for them. Living there made it possible to have the family dinners and the birthday parties.
Just as I’m sure not everyone who lives in Compton is “ghetto,” and not everyone who lives in the middle east is a terrorist, I guarantee that not everyone who lives in a trailer park is trash. My family is not trashy. My neighbors were not trashy. And I’m pretty confident that everyone who knows me personally would not describe me as trashy in any way. So maybe we need to find a better way to form our opinions of other people. Rather than define someone by their living situation or their station in life, we could try – oh, I don’t know – basing it on their character? Just a thought.
Peace out, yo!