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.  


vickie morgan said...

Beautifully written. This is the way my grandparents lived also. We never thought a thing about it. There was such love abound there. I hope that's what my grandkids see when they come not things.

I wish though you had said what you live on. Maybe she would have thought about that more. No..maybe not. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much people make they will spend it anyway.

I have a relative who lives alone and one time she told me she just barely makes it. She makes 3 hundred dollars more a month than we do. I did tell her just that. She was very quiet.

Have a great night.

Lana said...

My Mom grew up without electricity and running water and even when my Grandparents did have those things after, they were very dear to them as you describe. When we visited for a week every summer we knew that an inch or two of water was all we should run to wash dishes and that baths were just barely enough water to wash in. All of my Pennsylvania relatives have indoor plumbing now but many of them still have an outhouse at the back of the yard. I would give anything to be back at my grandparents meager home. Some of my best childhood memories were made there. They are both gone now and the house burned to the ground a few years ago.

Most think that my husband makes a lot more than he does but it is because we live with economy and are careful of our money that we appear so. My sister once said that she thought we have twice what we really do. I will honestly say though that you cannot out give God. The more we have given the more He has blessed.

Tracy Lee said...

A beautiful post, Terri....

Anonymous said...

As I read this beautiful post relatives and friends faces and home flashed before my mind. Such hard working sincere God fearing people. Never once did they think to feel sorry for themselves. I actually thought hard about my many relatives and even asked several younger relatives did they remember any negative thoughts from them. They said none. They are so content and happy to have what they had. There was always a friend or relative they even were helping. it was just the way we all lived. Helping each other. Whether that was through prayer or groceries or manual labor or any way needed. It was just done. No one had to be asked. You would not think to hurt someone's pride either. We were taught by our elders and even teachers there was nothing wrong with having few clothe or worn ones. The trouble was when you wore them sloppily or unwashed or ironed. Same with your homes. You represented God, your town, family and even your school so look land act the best possible. What would they think of them if they saw you? Be thankful. I remember one snowy winter having one skirt and one jumper but they are kept washed and ironed each night so you looked proper. Never feel sorry for yourself. There were always people worse off than every way possible. They would gladly share places with you. Gratitude and contentment was the word for their lives. Do your best at all times, give thanks to God and do right by man. Things don't matter....people do. Do what you know to be right and don't compare or judge others. You are responsible for yourself. I did not hear gossip about neighbors or relatives,. Even when among grownups. They are all so grateful to be here in America and wanted to do all they could to better it. Prayer was a natural way of life for them. As usual so much of what I learned about life and how it should be lived I learned by observing all of them almost more than anything they tried to actually teach me.
Yes I remember the outhouses. One still being used. The water pump and taking a bath in the metal tub brought in the kitchen for baths. Water heated for us too on the wood stove. That was at the relatives. At home our claw foot tub always held 2" of water wether in the cold bathroom on a snowy night or a summer's eve. Wasn't that the way everyone lives? No one knew any one different so naturally we thought everyone in the world lived like us. Just like you said.No one had fans or air conditioning. Till L.B.J. told many they were poor they did not know either. We are happy. We had each other. We did not eat fancy and at times things were scarce ..especially when the mills were all down but we pulled together and made it. I know now compared to many I was a millionaire. I just wish I could again embrace the many extraordinary people I came from and tell each how much they enhanced and influenced my entire life. I got a chance as an adult to write to some of them but missed the time for many. I am proud to be a part of their world that included their faith and hope I too can enrich America and not tear it down in any way. Sorry , your post brought back such beautiful memories of may own family and town that I got sentimental. Sarah

Anonymous said...

I too remember even my parents mentioning that my husband must make a lot of money cause we had such a nice house. Now nice did not mean size but that our things were kept nice and we had what we needed. We did not realize they thought this. In fact we had way less income than any of my siblings but the others acted and or talked like they had little. :-) We felt like millionaire though. We may not have had things we wanted but we basically did have what we needed. We had priorities set up and church, bills and food were first before any wants. So we felt we had it covered although most times it was a hard stretch. :) Wants could wait again if needed. Like Pa Ingall's was thought of as being the richest man in Walnut Grove we felt like that too. We had each other and everything else that truly mattered. So many did not. Any 'want' money we could gather could be used to help others with their 'needs'
I am really enjoying reading the other comments. Sarah

Kathy said...

I love your ending statement! "I have enough and more."

We are so blessed, aren't we.

I remember my mom talking about growing up in an old farmhouse in the country when she was a little girl. They didn't have electricity, and her job was to clean the lamp chimneys. She was so excited when they moved to town and had electricity. She said that she kept turning the lights on and off. This was during the 1940's. My grandparents lived during the Great depression, and I think that greatly influenced my parents. Daddy worked hard, and we had everything we needed and most of what we wanted. A good legacy! I miss my parents so much.

Karla Neese said...

What a wonderful post. I grew up "poor" and my dad grew up "poor" as well. But my parents were the type who taught that there is always someone worse off and we always have something to give, even if it's not money. As I age, more and more I appreciate having a humble upbringing in a family who knew what it meant to be hardworking, frugal, giving, etc.

Thank you for the reminder that I have more than enough.

Colleen Gold said...

I never realized money was tight. If you wanted something & mom said no it was no, not we don;t have the money. What they had was spent on education & church. My mom always talk about her mom coming over from Ireland a 14. How hard she worked to raise her family being widowed twice with small kids each time. She always said my mom would be so proud we have so much, boy are we lucky. We had each other, family a plenty & church what more could you want ?

Wendi said...

Love this post! As I was reading this verse "for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content" from Philippians keep running through my mind. We live on a small income and have to watch every penny, but I have all I need. Thank you for sharing this post.

Crystal H. in Nevada said...

I never realized how poor we were until I grew up. We always had food to eat - a huge garden, chickens, rabbits, fruit trees and bushes, clothes to wear (mom made them) and neighbors to fill in the gaps and share with. Still remember homemade ice cream with the neighbors and if it was lunchtime and you were at a neighbor kids house their mom just assumed you would be staying to eat so call your mom and let her know.

We'd go visit grandma and grandpa about an hours drive away every Sat. and we'd have a dinner of turkey legs, mashed or fried potatoes and green beans.

We played outside to our hearts content and did our chores. Our house was under 750 square feet and my bedroom was a large closet. But at least I didn't have to share with my two brothers. I never remember our home being cluttered or messy but can't really say I saw mom clean all the time. She had coffee daily during the week with neighbor women. Oh, and everyone policed all the kids in the neighborhood. You didn't want to do something wrong because you'd get in trouble from more than just your mom.

Life was lived and enjoyed. Boy do I miss that.

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