Saturday, December 5, 2009
Becoming "Enriched", while being "Poor"
Yesterday, I was reading the "blurb" by Diane Boyette about one of the reasons that VISD didn't dismiss classes early was that some children needed to be fed. She went on to say that they wouldn't eat any meals during the weekend. This started me to thinking about my own childhood.
During my early childhood I collected many great memories of playing outside, having friends, a warm house in the winter (Ohio does get very cold), plenty of food (even though some of it wasn't to my liking), and clean clothes. What I didn't have was a father for the first seven years. My dad left right after I was born and my mom moved with her two small children back home to help take care of her elderly parents and live in their three bedroom house with us. She worked long hours and my grandparents kept us until they passed away by the time I was four. Needing help with childcare, she paid a young girl to live with us and fill in when my mom's work hours would have left us alone, otherwise. Someone was there with us during the summer, whether it was an aunt, neighbor, or other responsible adult, because my mom was on her own to provide for her two children. I don't remember not having as much as other kids, but I know that we didn't. My mom made sure that she spent time with us reading, baking cookies, taking walks, visiting relatives, going to the zoo and other activities that enriched our lives. I now realize what sacrifices she made to make sure that we were well taken care of and I appreciate the extraordinary strength that she had to maintain a household on her own.
After the age of seven, my life changed with the addition of my step-father. We were uprooted from everything we knew and brought to south Texas. Talk about a culture shock. I had never seen any cockroachers, let alone ones large enough to carry a small child (you know those huge suckers that give you the willies when you come across them coming up your drain.) In the summertime I got heat rash so bad under my arms that I would try to sleep with my arms above my head, so the hot air from the fan would help to cool those spots. Hurricane Carla was the final blow to my introduction to the wonderful world of Texas. I was so ready to pack it in and leave, but when you're a kid, you're pretty much stuck.
In school things were strange, also. We would be lined up outside and as a teacher would walk along the row with her yellow pencil she would check our hair. (Found out later that this was for lice--which thank goodness I never got.)
If a student didn't use the word, "Ma'am" in the answer to a teacher, a sharp rap of a ruler on the knuckles taught you what was required. Up north, "Yeah" wasn't thought to be bad manners; it was just said. I learned, "Yes, Ma'am, Yes, Sir," very quickly.
Our income was greatly reduced throughout the years, because of many factors which were out of my control. I took my lunch to school (school lunches were too expensive for us) or I went home for lunch. In elementary, we were even allowed to walk home for lunch. Surprisingly, we made it home, ate and returned to school on time and unmolested. I remember that it was kind of shameful if you had to go home for lunch and couldn't afford to eat cafeteria food. But you did what you had to do considering the family's situation.
My mother sewed many of my clothes and that was for economic reasons, also. I didn't mind, so much, until one time when we were told to wear our Sunday's Best and a boy sneered at me, "So this is your Sunday's Best?" I am sure that my face was as red as the pretty corduroy dress that my mom had toiled so hard with. I told him it was and turned away, so I couldn't see him snicker to his friends. Kids can be so cruel. I never told my mom; in fact I even fibbed when I told her that everyone like my dress.
My shoes were bought at Payless, because you could get two pairs for five dollars or less. Payless wasn't a place that other kids' shoes came from, so my shoes were different and I stood out as a kid that couldn't afford the "norm." Knowing now as an adult the situation my family was in, I am grateful that I even had shoes. My mom wouldn't buy any shoes for herself, but she made sure that my growing feet were taken care of.
As I got older, the "wants" changed to records. All my friends had extensive collections and record players to boot. I remember my mom telling me that you could listen to the radio and all the records would be there. Finally, I had an album and I treasured it dearly. Before I graduated from high school, I believe I owned four albums, and an inexpensive record player by my bed. I would put the record on and I knew exactly which song was which band and I would carefully line up the needle with the blank band right before the song. My record player's arm always had coins taped to the top, because it would skip without the extra weight.
Some of my friends had fancy homes, cars and great clothes. I got along with my close group of friends and we would stay over at each other homes, no matter if there were enough beds for sleepovers or not. Life seem simpler then, and I guess it was. If a friend didn't have much, the others in the group just accepted that fact. Want to go to the movies? Don't have much money? Toss all the money together and guess what, everyone gets to go. Of course, movies were cheaper then, along with everything else.
I was taken care of by my mom, even though she didn't have a lot of money. We learned to play Canasta, board games, travel on a tight budget, and read. Library books were free and opened up worlds that invited me to explore.
I am grateful that my life was enriched by people and not things. I pray that I have done that for my family, also, given them the treasures of my heart and mind.