Lifestyles of the Millennial Elder Part I

I want to share my experiences as a "Millennial Elder", a term coined by Iliza Schlesinger. This first part is about my life until I graduated High School (1982-2000). This is about the generation that shaped me into the person I am today. I learned very important lessons in this time frame that most people learn as adults. One of the most important lessons is that mom is always right.

Single Moms Get the Short End of the Stick

I was raised in Atlanta, Georgia by a single mother. She never received a penny of child support. She made just enough to cover the necessities and barely too much to collect government assistance. She had an okay paying job for a single mother with no college degree. There weren't many women in banking back then and having a child was widely considered a liability for any employment. There was no calling out because your kid was sick or coming in late because your kid missed the bus. There certainly wasn't any possibility of her showing up at the school in the middle of the day if something happened. There was no room for error.

Despite all of that, I was extremely well cared for. I had a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, nice clothes, shoes, and school supplies. I was always clean and well put together. And I certainly never missed a meal.

It Takes A Village

I have a very small family. My aunt and uncle lived up the street. My aunt was a beautician and my uncle was a plumber. They had two daughters who were about 15 years my senior. They worked with my uncle throughout high school. My oldest cousin got her plumbing license right out of high school (she was the youngest female licensed plumber in the southeast) and my uncle started a plumbing company named M. Cary & Daughters Plumbing. My aunt ran the books. Since they all basically worked out of the house, there was always someplace I could be when my mom was out working or somebody to pick me up from school if needed. I had great neighbors that would watch all of the neighborhood kids in the afternoons and weekends too.

Kicking Rocks

Summer break, I remember my mother scraping together money to send me to summer camp at the YMCA. They would bus us to the Grist Mill in Stone Mountain park every day and I loved it. At some point, several YMCA's bought a piece of property called Rock Chapel. It was basically the site of an old granite quarry. I hated it there. Luckily, my uncle had started purchasing foreclosed houses. He bought a couple of houses on my street and a house right behind my apartment building. He would do all the work on his own and then rent them out.

"Arithmetic"

After school, the school bus would drop me off in front of my aunt's house. If somebody was home, I would stop by. Sometimes my uncle would be at the kitchen table with an envelope and a pencil and would ask me to help him with his "arithmetic". He would say, "I had to drop out of school in 7th grade to work, so I need your help figuring out these numbers." I always thought he was kidding. He was not, although he certainly doesn't need any help with numbers.

That's How It's Done

This one particular day my uncle wanted to build a deck on the back of one of his properties. He had never built a deck before, let alone one that was three stories off the ground. He had three people come out and give him a quote to build the deck. He reviewed their material lists and then we called local hardware stores to get pricing on materials and tools to do the job. Then I would help him with the math. Obviously, we determined it would be much cheaper to build the deck himself. He built his first one on his own house. For the first few years, I wasn't allowed on the deck. He was afraid that it wasn't structurally sound. He built a second one right below that one and along the way, he learned more and more about the dos and don'ts of building a deck. Once he was satisfied that he knew what he was doing, he built several on almost all of his properties.

You Get What You Ask For

After school, if my uncle wasn't home, I would walk up to his properties to see where he was working. He would give me a broom and ask me to sweep up the sawdust. After a while, I got the idea that instead of going to an expensive summer camp that I hated, I would ask my uncle if I could work with him over the summer. The next day, I brought my proposal to my uncle. I said, for a dollar a day, I will come by and help you with your properties during the summer. He agreed. My mother, on the other hand, was harder to convince. She told me that a dollar a day was not enough. I said if I asked for more he probably would say no. Eventually, she said "whatever".

Working For The Man

The next summer, I started working with my uncle. First I was sweeping the floors and handing him tools. Then I was demolishing plaster walls and dumping construction debris into dumpsters. Once the plumbing and electrical were done, we would hang sheetrock and I would mud, sand, and paint. My uncle would put up molding and I would caulk and paint it. By the time I turned 12, his properties were fully renovated and rented. Since there was nothing else for me to work on, I started working with my oldest cousin on her plumbing truck.

You Laughin' at Me?

I knew absolutely nothing about plumbing. I drove my cousin crazy. She sent me out to her truck for a pipe cutter. I was gone over a half an hour when she came out mad as hell. "HOW HARD IS IT TO FIND A (EXPLETIVE) PIPE CUTTER?" I said I couldn't find it. She reached into her tool bucket and pulled out three and asked me very angrily, "WHAT ARE THESE?!" I yelled back, "CLAMPS!" She was literally in tears laughing. Once she composed herself she showed me that although they look like clamps, they have a little wheel on the front that would cut through the pipe and then demonstrated how it was used.

Know Your Worth

I had many learning moments that summer. One day we went for lunch and my cousin said, you're getting paid, why am I buying your lunch every day? My uncle always bought me lunch or we would make sandwiches at the house. I told her I only made a dollar a day and that I couldn't afford it but I would bring a sandwich from now on. She got very upset and told me that I wasn't allowed to work with her until I re-negotiated my pay to something reasonable. I was afraid that if I asked for more money my uncle would say that he couldn't afford it and I wouldn't have any money. She said, "I have been working you like a full grown man, you need to be paid like one." It turns out, my uncle likes to negotiate. I should have listed to my mom.

Who Needs A Computer When You Have A Typewriter?

It was around this time that my mother decided we needed a computer. I remember sitting in that damn Best Buy for what felt like hours (it probably was) as my mom started working numbers in her head trying to find a way to buy this computer. They offered financing at 0% APR for 6 months on the new Compaq Presario desktop computer. We needed to be able to pay off this computer in less than 6 months because the interest would have crushed us. She created a budget and came up with a plan to afford it. I tried to tell her that we didn't need it. I had just bought myself a spiffy new electric typewriter with spell checker and correction tape. I thought I was hot stuff. She was adamant that she was not leaving without that computer. It was as if our lives depended on it. Once again, mom is always right.

That's Just Old "Hack"

While she learned everything about how the computer worked and all of the important stuff, I picked up a few things along the way myself. For legal purposes, I will leave it at that. I remember coming across a cool website building tool by a company called Arachnophobia. Playing around with this software, I learned basic HTTP. It was like what we know now as a text editor. You would type out what you wanted, highlight it and then click a button for a color, or bold, or font size and it would wrap your text with the appropriate code. You couldn't help but learn the code because it was so simple. This MS-DOS based software was cunningly named Dreamweaver (yep, the one and only; now owned by Adobe). It had a little web with a spider on it. I had also learned that you can go into .ini files and customize software. I would go in and rebrand everything with my name or give myself unlimited lives in games. Ah, simpler times.

Early Retirement

I continued to work with my cousin or answer the phones at the house during the summers and my mom continued to learn more and more about computers. By the time I was 15, my uncle's plumbing company had outgrown the family kitchen and the small shop where he stored his materials. He bought a building in downtown Decatur. We renovated it to have office space with a parking lot and a garage. From then on, at the ripe old age of 15, I retired to working in the office. I answered phones, got deposits ready for the bank, calculated payroll, ordered and received warehouse inventory and would go out on trucks as a plumbers helper when needed. My mom had finally left her crappy job at the bank and started working for a banking software company. I started tinkering with IRC bots and scripts for chat rooms.

We've Got an ID10T Situation Over Here

By the time I graduated high school my mom was a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. She tried to talk me into getting my certification but I honestly couldn't wrap my head around why people would pay so much for something so simple. Such a trend would surely die off now that "plug and play" was all the rage.  I was a fool.

My high school graduation present from my mom was a trip to Rome, Italy.

Part II is going to discuss the next chapters of my life. How I used my experiences to go out in the world and the new experiences that brought me to where I am today. Part III will breakdown the major takeaways and compare all of these things with today's society.

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