Before I get much further, I just want to say this is not, a crying in your beer or milk, sob story of a life in poverty. Now that’s out of the way and here we go.
I am the second child of the nine children my mother gave birth to. If my mother was to tell this story, there would be some very heavy events that forever molded how she dealt with life. Most of them happened before my third birthday. As children just naturally do, I was happy as long as my mother was nearby. Living without my Father wasn’t a sad event for me as I just didn’t remember him. I had my Mother, a little sister and a Grandmother I came to love almost as much as my Mother.
This begins to change when Mom remarried. Not right away. I had just enough time to love this Father and was happy to feel his strong arms around me while sitting on his lap or being carried to bed after falling asleep in the car or on the floor. Not long after he and my mother started having children together, things started being very much different for me. It seemed as if there was nothing I could do right. The Spring just before my 15th birthday, he packed us all up. My mother, sister and now two brothers and three more little sisters. Off to the country we went. Not a bad idea if you are just trying to give kids more growing room and a back to basics education. That wasn’t on the itinerary. It was more like Peter Pumpkin Eater locking his wife away. We went from the 20th Century to the 18th or 19th nearly overnight. I loved being able to have a dog, chickens and cow and for a time pigs (they didn’t like it there either). I experienced fishing for the first time, only to having take my huge catfish haul back to the pond. I didn’t know how to clean them and neither did Mom, I think.
By the time winter came, all was not right in this bare bones existence. I came down with pneumonia, Mom was pregnant again and we needed a proper home with heat, running water and a stove to cook on instead of one electric skillet or boiling on top of the wood heat stove. Mom left her husband of about ten years. The timing was not good. Winter came on hard that year and Mom, us seven kids spent about a week or so at her Brother’s home. They also had seven kids. This all in a four room shot gun bungalow. The amazing thing about this, not one single blow up between us kids or the adults. My mother’s sadness was so evident to all and hard for me to bear.
We eventually were able to move into our own home and things were some improved. As men and women oft times do, there was a lot of arguing. My step father wasn’t helping much at all. Mom was able to get commodities. This was the forerunner of food stamps and still done in some counties. She took the flour we received and with a few pennies bought yeast and nearly every day made homemade bread. Christmas came upon us and kind neighbors, made sure we had a Christmas tree, got to see Santa and receive gifts and brought a huge box of food with Ham, glorious, tasty Ham.
By this time I was already enrolled in high school. Mom would give me bus money good for a ride to school or a ride home. One or the other I had to walk. Being (in my mind) so destitute was a very big problem for me. I didn’t make any attempts to join anything, it cost money. For some days I went without lunch as we couldn’t afford it. When we went back to school after Christmas break, Mom made me a ham sandwich from the donated meat and her homemade bread. Although I loved them, I was embarrassed at the obvious picture it would portray to my schoolmates. Don’t be real hard on me, now. I was only 15. To my absolute amazement, there were dozens of kids who came over to ask what I was eating. When I told them “a ham sandwich with Mom’s homemade bread”, most of them responded with “how lucky you are” “Wow! Homemade bread” or they wished their moms would make homemade bread. Among a slew of not so good days, that was a banner moment for me. I loved my Mother quite a bit more, after that. Perceptions are not black or white they come in a kaleidoscope of colors. We need to be Thankful for good days and learn from the bad ones.