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
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
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
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
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