On one of my recent playdates (translated ‘coffee and chat’ session), a friend was talking about being raised poor and not knowing it. His father, along with his Uncles, all worked at the Fire-stone Tire factory in Akron, Ohio.
It was a hard, honorable job but one that didn’t pay a lot, especially for a household of many children and a mother who didn’t work outside of the home. My friend’s situation was no different than the Irish, Polish, Black and Eastern Europe neighbors in his community. It simply was what it was.
My friend casually commented how he remembered having to put cereal box cardboard into his tennis shoes because he only got one pair of shoes for all summer. His parents couldn’t afford to send him to college but fortunately, he felt ‘the calling’ and went into the seminary instead. His brothers and sisters weren’t so lucky. They barely finished high school and went directly to work.
My own story of growing up poor has been chronicled in many blogs over the years. Again, it wasn’t something my friends and I were acutely aware of aside from the lack of a family car, summer vacations or material things around the house. Most of us started working at an early age and accepted that as ‘par for the course.’
Sharon grew up, doing chores at six years old, on the farm. If the bulk tank wasn’t cleaned twice a day, her dad couldn’t sell his milk as grade A and there wouldn’t be a milk check at the end of the month. She remembers growing up with no sink in the kitchen but a shiny new bulk tank instead in the barn.
I’ve told both my kids, that compared to some of our relatives, they were lucky to be born without a silver spoon lodged… as some of their cousins were. It made them more self-reliant and determined to forge their own path to adulthood.
This idea of growing up poor is a central theme in one of my first novels ‘Love in the A Shau.’ There are certain advantages of being ‘born hungry’ as Daniel likes to say. I didn’t have a choice growing up but I’m not sure I would have changed a thing even if I could have. I’ve learned over the years that ‘growing up hungry’ is not a bad thing.