It’s one thing to grow up poor

And know that you are poor

But it’s 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 cereal and sometimes pancakes

Sometimes 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 school started)

Because having eaten anything sweet,

Like pancakes

Made me nauseous.

We often went to my grandmother’s

For lunch and she fed us well,

And my mother usually made

Some kind of one-dish meals

for supper,

Such as beef stew or

A vegetable soup

Or a favorite of

Green beans with bits of ham

Cooked with carrots and potatoes.

We rarely had dessert

And to this day

I seldom want dessert

After dinner,

Nor have I ever gotten in the habit

Of drinking milk with a meal

Because we were not allowed to eat it

With dinner

Because Billy always spilled his.

We invariably had holes in our shoes

Which were patched with cardboard

Or a piece of linoleum;

You had to make do

Until it was time to get new shoes,

For Easter or Christmas.

I wore a lot of hand-me-downs

But didn’t think anything of it

Because the dresses that were given to me

Were so nice, and when I outgrew them

A younger child would inherit them,

Sometimes my friend Patti

Or my mother may have given to someone else.

I don’t know.

She 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

For years after

My mother gave it away

Without my knowledge.

But my mother was like

The Lord who giveth and

The Lord who taketh away.

Nothing was really your own,

I suppose.

I think I was often hungry

As I think back on it,

And I sometimes stole candy

Or potato chips

From local grocery stores

If we could not find

Enough soda pop bottles

To cash 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.

Many buildings are closed down

And the windows boarded over.

Perhaps it never was 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.

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