Thursday, August 6, 2015
Never Poor In Their Minds
Growing up, I was very aware of my grandparents and great grandmothers' lives. They all lived on a very low income. Dismally low. Had they wanted, any one of them might have gone on public assistance, but had you suggested it to any of them, they'd have been mighty upset. They owned their homes, they had furnishings however old they might be, and with great care they managed their funds to cover all their needs: namely electricity, fuel for heat and clothes (or fabric to sew said clothes). They gardened, hunted and fished, or relied on family members who did so, to cover their nutritional needs. They foraged for food, too, picking wild fruits or greens to supplement their foodstuffs. Their homes were not big, nor fancy. Just modest homes, simply built or renovated by their own hand. They heated with wood or propane and air conditioning was not even in their vocabulary.
My grandmothers, to a person, turned off the circuit breaker controlling their hot water heaters each day. It was turned on twenty minutes prior to wanting hot water for dishes or a bath or a load of wash. I recall Grandmama Stewart going out to pull water up from her well, which she brought indoors and heated on the stove when hot water was needed. And all of my grandparents hung their laundry to dry, too, where sun whitened the whites and imparted a fresh fragrance that no dryer will ever bestow.
At Granny's there was no letting water run endlessly. She drew up a dishpan of water to soak dishes in. She plugged the sink and filled it with an inch or two of water and therein we washed our hands and face before dinner. We didn't run water when we wanted a drink either. We drank from a stainless steel 'dipper' that sat in a 5 gallon bucket of water on the counter. Running water was dear. There was the electric bill for the pump and that portion of money was reserved for watering the cows each evening. And there was the well which might run dry.
If not our own home, then someone we knew lived in some very poor homes indeed. It was common among my classmates to hear how they'd lived for a time without indoor plumbing. Many of the homes weren't even connected to the electric grid until the late 1950's or early 1960's and then it was a single light bulb in the middle of the room. In the 1970's, we joked at school about outhouses, but all of us knew someone in the country who still had a working one. It wasn't uncommon to have classmates smell of wood smoke and soap, a lovely combination in winter that spoke of a warm, clean home.
I recall reading a series of blog posts a couple of years ago wherein a young woman went on a mission trip and visited the child she'd sponsored. There she saw poverty...Yet that family too was oblivious to their poverty. They had a home. They had furnishings however humble and they had hospitality to offer their guest. She was heartbroken for them. They were proud to host her. She saw life through her own eyes. They saw it only through theirs. They had no idea of the wealth she had. They only knew how blessed they were.
I am not unaware of poverty, true poverty. I don't for one minute doubt the poverty the young woman blogger experienced when she visited her sponsored child. In our area of the South, poverty was something we grew up knowing very well.
On my way home from work I'd stop and buy eggs from a woman on the other side of our hometown. Mrs. W sold eggs from her chickens, raised her own turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and gardened. She spent her days 'putting by' the foods she grew in her garden and she put up every thing. In winter, she picked up pecans and used the income from selling those to pay her property taxes, something many of the older people in our rural counties did. Mrs. W. used the income from her eggs to pay for her medications which weren't covered in full by Medicare.
Her home was a much older home. Inside her furnishings were simple as could be, and the bedspread on the bed was terribly threadbare. But the floors shone with polish, the rooms shone with sunlight (no electricity needed if the house was flooded with light during the day!) and the threadbare spread on that lumpy bed was pulled straight and neat and smoothed so that a wrinkle didn't dare attempt to ruin it's surface. She was poor...but I'd have never dared whisper it to anyone, not when her care of all that she had was so obvious. She worked hard at making ends meet. Only once did I see her downhearted. She'd been put on a new medicine that Medicare wouldn't cover at all. "I don't see just how I can do any more than I'm doing," she'd confided to me. She stopped selling eggs because she couldn't afford to feed her chickens in the winter when they weren't laying. But she kept right on, all the same. It wasn't in her to give up and quit.
I thought of these things this week. I thought of how an acquaintance shared that her son had a job at last and she told me what he'd be making. It was, at that time, the same salary we were living on. The acquaintance was a hard working woman, solidly middle class. I asked if her son would be moving out on his own. "Gracious, no!" she exclaimed. "No one can live on that salary!" I could see the very impossibility of it in her eyes. I remember wondering what she'd say if I'd replied "Oh but we do and we've had a lot less, too and raised our family on it..." but I couldn't say it. To say it would have been to say I was poor, at least in her eyes. And I'm not. I have a home. I have a full pantry. I have hospitality to offer any who come to visit. I have enough and more.