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,

for meatloaf.

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

every day.

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

finishing chores.

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

really like.

Sandra Lee Smith

February 18, 2009/Updated June 4, 2018


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