The Haves at the Have-Not Flea Market

I am a have-more.

When I was younger, I thought I was a have-not. I was wrong. I was a have-less, maybe. I grew up and married into a have family. Now I think we might live in the have-more category. I am now so used to being insulated in my community of other have-mores that I am shocked when I come face to face with have-nots.

Sunday my mom and I took the kids and we went to a flea market in Ardmore, TN.

Ardmore strattles the border of Alabama and Tennessee and is only a few miles from my door. We live in a affluent community, especially as compared to the rest of the South. In 2000, the median income for a household here was $63,849, while the median income for a household in Ardmore was $33,571. In Madison, 52% of people over age 25 hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In Ardmore, that number is only 13.6%. Even Huntsville, next door to us, isn’t as affluent. The tech jobs and military contracts bring in the money. To the surrounding communities (and even our neighboring states) we look rich because we are.

I forget that in poor, rural places not as much emphasis is placed on education. People don’t have the money to go to college, which prohibits them from getting better paying jobs. They stay in their small towns working blue collar/minimum wage jobs without insurance or other benefits. I was reminded of all of this on Sunday.

How could I tell that the people we saw were poor?

I saw very few adults with a full set of teeth. People who don’t have access to health care don’t get routine preventative treatments–in this case, dental cleanings, x-rays, and fillings. They wait until the tooth is so bad that it has to be pulled or just rots away. Don’t believe me? Check out some statistics at the CDC. Southern states have bad percentages for pretty much every question asked. Oklahoma scores are just as bad and I’m guessing the lack of health/dental coverage for Native Americans on reservations there has something to do with those numbers. Having a full set of teeth is a luxury of the haves.

The other experience was just as damning but much more subtle. A lady we were talking to at one stall was teasing Eli about trading Liza in for a puppy. (He didn’t want to make the trade, sweet boy!) I made my standard joke about how she would return the baby when it was feeding time. She looked at me as if I were suddenly not speaking English. “You mean, she doesn’t take a bottle?”

The working poor can’t afford to nurse their children even though it’s less expensive to breastfeed. They can’t take the time off work to nurse or to take breaks to pump milk. Nursing is also a luxury of the haves. Breastfeeding is something educated women are able to do because they either have a good enough job that they can afford to jump through all the hoops breastfeeding entails, or their spouses make enough money to support them staying home to care for their children. In my community breastfeeding is a norm.

I wondered if there were actual statistics to back me up on this and indeed the CDC comes through again. Check out especially Maternal Education, Maternal Marital Status, and Poverty Income Ratio.

And here’s a truly amazing graph I ran across while looking for my statistics. See what floor you live on. Are you a have-not? I’m guessing you aren’t if you are reading this at home on your computer. A have-less? A have-more?

The gulf between where I live and Ardmore is so wide it’s personally embarrassing for me. Before Sunday I had forgotten how blessed I am in every single aspect of my life and that’s embarrassing. I had forgotten how close to my own door the have-nots live. And that’s the most embarrassing thing of all.