I grew up in a very middle class suburban neighborhood filled with two style of houses, brick ranches and tri-levels. Everything and everyone was homogeneous. No one had a bigger or nicer house, and no one drove a fancier car. It was truly middle America, 1960 and 1970. The one exception was the Bailey family, they were “rich”.
I don’t remember what Mr. Bailey did for living. He owned some business that made something. Their tri-level looked very different from the other houses in the neighborhood. They added on to the back, change the front and put in a pool. Mr. and Mrs. Bailey drove matching Cadillac’s which they seem to trade every year. It was hard to miss them cruising the neighborhood in these land yachts.
Mr. Bailey made a show of everything, the biggest parties, full-page ads in the rec league programs, and the most Christmas decorations. I am sure it would have been easy to be envious of them except that Mr. Bailey wasn’t a very nice person. Actually he was very rude, snobby, just your basic dick head. The Bailey’s had their hanger-ons, their little “click”, but my parents, who were younger, weren’t in that group.
There were two Bailey sons, the youngest about two years older than me. They always had the best of everything, the best bicycle, baseball glove, and mini-bikes. I would show up for baseball practice in a pair of cut-offs, Chuck Taylors and a t-shirt, they “practiced” in a full Yankee uniform with cleats. Like their Dad, they weren’t nice kids. They were both big, tall and wide, and bully’s. If you fought one you fought both of them and I got my ass kicked a couple of times, all the younger kids like me did. When we saw them coming we just got out-of-the-way before they could push or shove us out-of-the-way. Real sweethearts.
The Bailey boys ruled the neighborhood. If car windows were smashed everyone assumed the Bailey boys were involved. Missing mailboxes, cars egged, broken park equipment, probably the Bailey boys. We would hear stories about police involvement, that one of them had been arrested but nothing ever seemed to come of it.
When the oldest turned 16 he got a brand new Corvette which for small children and neighbor pets created a whole new set of problems. I know for a fact that he was busted for speeding, running stop lights and racing on the streets more than a few times. I witnessed a couple of them myself and saw him carted off in the back of a squad car. But he would be back at it the next day, terrorizing the neighborhood daring anyone to complain.
And then one day the Bailey’s were gone. They moved to a neighborhood and house more becoming of their status, class and closer to their country club. The Bailey boys became someone else’s problem. Peace and tranquility ruled middle class suburbia once again.
But this story doesn’t end here. I guess Mr. Bailey decided that his new house needed a younger model wife. The previous Mrs. Bailey bought a house in our neighborhood and her younger son came with her. He had changed, not the least of which was that all of the younger kids he used to pick on, including me, were now bigger than he was. But he had also received a dose of humility which made him tolerable to be around. He still had his moments, but he didn’t get a Corvette when he turned 16, he drove an old wreck like the rest of us. He was now living the life of “the rest of us” and it must have been a humbling tumble.
My family moved out of the neighborhood not long after Mrs. Bailey’s return and I closed the Bailey boy chapter of my life. But I walked away with some very important lessons, money can take care of a lot problems, even get you out of trouble, but it can’t make you a compassionate, or caring human being. You can’t buy that with money. Only experience, perspective and an open heart can do that. Being taken down a notch every once in a while is a good thing. If you have everything your heart desires then how can you truly appreciate the simple gifts of life?
“If we become increasingly humble about how little we know, we may be more eager to search.” – John Templeton