There never seemed to be enough to eat,
to feed a family of seven;
One can of salmon was turned into eight small patties
(my father got two)
or one pound of ground beef was mixed
with a loaf of bread,
We had a lot of organ meats,
Such as liver, kidneys, brains.
Milk was powdered
and often had little lumps,
but my mother did make bread
twice a week
in a big roasting pan.
I remember shoes with holes
in the soles
and using pieces of cardboard
to cover up the holes,
but you had to replace the cardboard
on a daily basis.
We walked to and from school,
no matter what the weather
but every one else did, too–
so that didn’t seem unusual.
We also went to a Catholic school
where we attended mass before classes
I often got sick in church,
and to this day
don’t like eating cold cereal in the morning.
My parents both had vile tempers–
when we were all young children,
my two youngest brothers often
got spanked at bedtime for not
settling down and going to sleep.
My mother broke a plate once over the heads
of my older sister and older brother
(for arguing while she was on the telephone).
I tended to hide, whenever I could,
to escape parental wrath.
My favorite hiding place was
behind the door to the cellar,
a small landing that was often
warm from the heat of the furnace
and where our dog slept.
But you could get into trouble
for hiding, too, or for not
Becky washed dishes; Jim dried them,
and it was my job to put them away.
It was also my job to polish the rungs
of the dining room furniture when
I was five years old.
When I was a little older, I graduated to
the tabletops and scrubbing down steps
with lye soap that my mother made
once a year.
It was also my job to hang socks on a
wooden rack to dry and it was my job
to take care of my younger brothers.
I’d make meals for them out of leftovers,
pretending I was a chef in a restaurant.
I tried to get them not to fight
so that my father wouldn’t whip
them with his bedroom slipper.
When he whipped them, I cried
into my pillow. I think I cried a lot,
but no one knew.
We never talked about what happened
at home to friends or other people.
I told my grandmother one time about an argument
I had had with my mother–and got slapped silly for it
when my father got home.
He mellowed out after his
first heart attack. My mother
didn’t mellow out until
she had Alzheimer’s and
no longer remembered anything.
My youngest brother, Scott, was born
when I was seventeen, and my sister
was born much later–I was twenty-one
when Susie was born.
My youngest sister and brother often
envied the rest of us; when we are together
and we laugh about our childhood antics,
Scott and Susie have no idea what it was
Sandra Lee Smith
February 18, 2009/Updated June 4, 2018