“Poor Folks has poor ways.” That’s the saying as I heard it as a child. It was my father’s excuse for patching with baling wire something that ought to have been fixed properly. Baling wire was the duct tape of earlier generations. It served as a gate latch when a gate latch was broken. It was frapping on a broken hoe handle. It was what kept the cowling on the family tractor from flapping in the wind.
Poor folks own things, however, that rich folks would not know how or where to acquire. They have empty fuel tanks which are too dangerous to recycle and too rusty to use. They have steel fence posts somewhere out back among the Johnson grass and pigweed. A poor man can own a stock rack that fits a pickup his father sold when he was a boy. A rich man lacks the mental capital to imagine such a thing. I knew a poor man who owned, after a lifetime of farming, over a hundred and fifty flat tires and more than half that many mismatched rims. What poor man would be able to hold up his head if he could not show you every lawn mower he has ever owned?
I didn’t learn until much later in life that there was another phrase to the old saying. The whole thing is thus: “Poor folks has poor ways; rich folks has mean ways.” Mean here does not mean malicious in the modern sense. It just means cheap. Think for a minute what that saying meant in the early Twentieth century. Poor people make mistakes, make do, make children, and make it to work by eight. Rich people are more apt to pinch, abstain, and worry.
Look into the crowd at a high school football game in a small town. There will be lots of people who did not come to be photographed, the Lord be praised. Look now at the crowd watching the All England finals at Wimbledon. They are tanned. They are skinny. All are expecting to be photographed. All are rich. But who among them can help you put up a stray cow? Who among them can spare you a few fence posts and some baling wire?