GROWING UP POOR

iT’S one thing to grow up poor,

and know you are poor,

and quite another to

grow up poor

without realizing it.

I didn’t realize it until many years later.

We didn’t have much

but we had breakfast every morning,

sometimes we had cereal and sometimes

pancakes; occasionally we had cream of wheat

which I did not like

or

oatmeal which I did.

We didn’t go to school hungry

although I often got sick in church

(services held before we started school)

because having eaten anything sweet,

like pancakes with pancake syrup

made me nauseous.

We often went to my grandmother’s for lunch

and she fed us well (grandma’s house was right

up the street from the school).

My mother usually made some kind

of one-dish meal such as beef soup

or a vegetable soup,

or a favorite of mine, green beans

with bits of ham from a frozen bone,

that was cooked with carrots and potatoes

and cottage cheese on the side;

we rarely had dessert

and to this day

I seldom want dessert

after dinner,

nor have I ever

gotten into the habit of

drinking milk with a meal

because we were not allowed

to drink milk with our dinner–

because Billy always spilled his.

We invariably had holes in our shoes

which were patched with cardboard

or a piece of linoleum if you could find any;

we all had to make do until it was time

to get new shoes–which was for Easter

or Christmas.

I wore a lot of hand-me-downs

and didn’t think anything of it

because the dresses that were given to me

were so nice, and when I outgrew them

they were given to  a younger child,

or sometimes my friend Patti.

Or my mother may have given them

to some one else; I don’t know.  My

mother was in charge of things; If

something disappeared, it was

generally because she had done something

with it.

I mourned the loss of my

dollhouse, given to me for

Christmas in 1945, for

many years after. My mother

gave it away without my knowledge

but my mother was like that.

The Lord who giveth, and

my mother who taketh away.

Nothing was ever your own.

As I think back on it,

I think I was often hungry

because of these things

and I sometimes stole candy

or potato chips from local

grocery stores if we could

not find enough pop bottles

to turn in for 2 cents each.

One time I found a dollar

on the floor  in church

as I was waiting for the

confessional; I thought

I had died and gone to heaven.

I spent it all on candy.

Surely it was a sign from God!

He wanted me to have that dollar!

Now, when I return to Fairmount

I see it as a poverty-stricken neighborhood,

much poorer than it was when

I was growing up.

But thinking back, all the stores and

businesses were kept clean; our schools and

playgrounds were kept clean and litter-free;

Where a firehouse once stood, it was converted

into a club house with dances for 7th &  8th

graders on Wednesday nights,  and for high

school kids on Friday nights. Also, on Friday

nights, free old time movies were shown on

the second floor for younger kids.

Many  of the buildings are now closed down

and the windows are boarded up.

Perhaps it was never much more

than a poor neighborhood

with many poor residents;

those who escaped live in better

neighborhoods or perhaps they,

like myself, moved far, far away.

Sandra Lee Smith

originally posted June 4, 2010

Updated September 18, 2018

 

 

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