there never seemed to be enough o eat

to feed a family of seven,

one can of salmon was turned into eight small patties

(my father got two)

one pound of ground beef

was mixed with a loaf of bread

for meatloaf;

we had a lot of organ meats

such as liver, kidney, brains;

milk was powdered

and often had little lumps

but my mother did make bread

twice a week

baked in a large roasting pan;

we always had bread.

I remember shoes,

with holes in the soles

and using pieces of cardboard

to cover them up,

but you had to replace

the cardboard on a daily basis;

we walked to  and from school

no matter what the weather

but everyone else did too,

so that didn’t see unusual;

we also went to a Catholic school

where we attended mass

before classes began every day

and to this day

I don’t like eating cold cereal in the morning.

My parents both had vile tempers

when we all were young children,

and two younger brothers often

got spanked at bedtime

for not settling down

and going to sleep.

My mother once broke

a plate over the heads

of my older brother and sister

for arguing

while she was on the telephone.

I tended to hide

whenever I could

to escape what ever discord

was going on;

my favorite place  was

behind the door to the cellar

where it was 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

and Jim dried them

and it was my job

to put them away.

It was also my job

to polish the rungs of furniture

when I was five.

When I was a little older

I graduated to the tabletops

and scrubbing down stairs

with lye soap

that my mother made

once a year;

it was my job to hang

socks to dry

on a wooden rack

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 would cry 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

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 and sister

were born much later

and often envied the rest of us

when we were together

and we’d laugh over our

childhood antics.

They had no idea

what it was really like


–Sandra Lee Smith

originally posted February 2009

Updated October 23, 2018

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