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 meal
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 some thing 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.
–Sandra Lee Smith


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