Adults Look Back On The Childhood Memory That Makes Them Think, 'Wow We Were Poor.'

What a weary time those years were -- to have the desire and the need to live but not the ability. - Charles Bukowski


1. She did her very best.

My two brothers and I ate toast for breakfast, top ramen for lunch, and popcorn for dinner, for a entire summer while our amazing mother worked three jobs to keep a roof over our heads.


2. Sometimes it's just easier to forget.

Once my dad, mom, sister and me started a spring cleaning in our house and we didn't have dinner that day. At that time I thought it was because we just had forgotten about it but now I realize we didn't have money for food and my parents were just trying to distract us so we wouldn't be hungry.


3. Thanks, mom.

My mom and I used to search for coins around our apartment so I could go to the pool with friends. My mom also used to cry during nights because we didn't have any money. Then my mom didn't eat much for a few months because she wanted to buy me an Atari, so I could be an programmer. I'm now a successful programmer.


4. Incredibly selfless.

I remember my mother once taking us to Burger King and just watching us play. She didn't buy anything for herself. Never has. This isn't the worst, but to me it now makes me sad remembering my mother in a beige trench coat, watching us play. Both my parents are incredibly humble, it makes me want to cry how people can be so selfless.

And yes, ramen soup and food stamps.


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5. Lights out.

Sitting next to the window in my room so I could read by streetlights when our power was shut off.


6. It's all relative.

Denny's and Taco Bell were a luxury afforded for only the highest of celebrations.

I was allowed to get one pair of brand-new pants for Christmas each year because I was 6 feet tall (in middle school no less) and couldn't wear the pants at the VA Thrift Store anymore, so they had to be ordered from a catalog.

My mom made deals with the local grocery store to buy their almost-expired meat (now, to be fair, my parents had been ranchers, and were aware of how to judge properly aged beef. It was expired because the dyes they used leeched out and the meat looked gray.)

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship is the first movie I can recall seeing with my mother in a theater. I was in college.

Cable TV and soda were things I only got to experience at my grandmother's house.

However... one of my first slumber parties, I got to invite over 2 - TWO - friends! I was so excited... we cleaned the hell out of our tiny mobile home, I swept the rickety front porch. I think I was aware that our house was tiny and cluttered (like a lot of poor people, my parents bordered on being hoarders) because I badgered my mother endlessly about making sure the boxes of storage were out of sight, and the piles of old lumber my dad cleaned and resold as firewood were straightened up. When the first friend arrived, she walked through that tiny, packed trailer, gazing around like it was a mansion, afraid to touch anything, and her first words to me that night are burned into my soul:

"Your house is so beautiful! Can I live here forever?"


7. She deserves a medal.

Hot dogs and macaroni every night. Having "camp outs" at the fireplace because we couldn't afford the electric bill. Church people leaving boxes of food on our porch.

My mom is the strongest person I've met. Raising a young child as a widow and making the poverty seem fun or invisible. No words for how much I admire that woman.


8. Something to hang onto.

Looking forward to school because cafeteria lunches were my most filling meal.


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9. You never know what it's like at home.

I loved school and all my friends thought I was weird. At school I got hot food, positive adult role models, friends, books, outdoor activities, and no one ever yelled at me for not responding fast enough or forgetting to put something away. At school, teachers encouraged me and my friends talked to me like I was an equal. Friday afternoon, everyone would run to the gate and I would find every reason to be the last one there.


10. A big heart.

My dad breaking down and crying after realizing he didn't have enough money to buy all the school supplies we needed.


11. Words of wisdom.

I grew up with just my mom. We were poor, on food stamps and welfare, but she made me realize just how good we had it. She'd volunteer us at soup kitchens, make me work at Meals on Wheels, and once she spent some of our meager savings on food for a friend of mine who's dad had bailed and his mom was trying to support four kids by herself.

We loaded up the shopping cart, and took the food to his house. It was seven pm, and his mom was trying to put the kids to bed because she had nothing to feed them. When she saw all the food, she cried. As we left, my mom said,

"See? No matter how bad you have it, others have it worse."


12. Oooh, it all makes sense.

Barbecue sauce sandwiches. The "wow" moment - when I offered a friend one and he laughed. When he saw I wasn't joking, I was invited over for dinner pretty often after that. Still a good friend almost 30 years later.


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13. Make believe.

When I was young, I always wanted a Gameboy Advance, but due to money restrictions, my parents had decided to say no. So as a result, I drew my own GBA, colored it purple, and would sit there for hours on hours just pretending to press the buttons.


14. Don't take a roof over your head for granted.

Realizing that we were living in my aunt's backyard, in a tent, and not camping for three months. Then getting kicked out and living in a car.


15. Hiding the struggle.

I remember begging to go to McDonald's, where I would have a happy meal and my parents would have nothing and watch me eat. I didn't realize it at the time, but they couldn't afford to order a meal for themselves. Really makes me feel like crap to think about it now - they tried so hard to make sure that I never felt the effects of their struggles.


16. Incredibly determined.

My mom making powdered milk for our breakfast at the Tulsa Greyhound station at 4 am on the way to Cedar Rapids after dad split. She sold everything she owned to buy five one way tickets back to her hometown; for the two day trip we had half a can of powdered milk, three cans of Vienna sausages, and a loaf of three day old bread from the Piggly Wiggly.


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17. Unintentional hipster.

Our mother couldn't afford to buy me new clothes so every summer she would cut the legs off all my jeans to make shorts. At the time I got laughed at but little did everyone know I was hipster AF.


18. Everyone's story is different.

I knew this family growing up. They had two boys about my age. Not filthy rich people, but definitely well-off. More well-off than my family for sure.

When the boys and I were all pre-teens, the Razor Scooter fad hit. One day my family and their family are all hanging out, and the boys mention they each want one.

I'm aware of how popular these Scooters are, so I know they're really expensive to buy, so I tell my mom later that maybe we should all chip in a few dollars so the boys can have them by Christmas, which is still a few months away.

The boys' parents had bought them each a new Scooter by the following week.

Made me realize that oh, some families don't have to save up all year to buy a toy that the kid really wants.


19. Just getting by.

We had no power or water for a week. My mom worked double shifts to support my 5 siblings and I. She had a second job at one point of time. I barely saw her. She had dead eyes and the only thing I could do was give her a back massage when she got home because she had back problems. We lived off of ramen. I picked peas and pecans to help with bills and pay for my Christmas presents.


20. A little bit of creativity goes a long way.

It's a tie between the time my mom had nothing but mac 'n' cheese to make for dinner and she felt bad so she went to the store and bought generic spam to mix with it, and the times she would make ramen, put green food dye in it, make a hotdog and cut the bottom half longways into 6ths or 8ths and spread that out on top of the ramen to look like an octopus on seaweed and told us it was fancy dinner night.


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21. Making things a little easier.

The summer I was six years old, my dad would take my sister and I to the public library every day. My mom's friend would pick us up and drive us to the YMCA where she worked and we would walk two blocks down to the library. We had library cards, but we were only allowed to take one book home. So my dad would walk around with us and we would get huge stacks of books, and we would have to read them all and decide which book was coming home with us. Then we got to put our books back, and if we were lucky, the librarians would let us take books off the cart and put them back on the shelf as well.

After a few weeks, one of the really nice librarians started giving us a snack part way through the day. It was a paper sack with a bologna or peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and sometimes some crackers or a cookie. She always put her name on it so that we wouldn't forget her name, 'Maryanne', which was silly because after a few days we knew it already. We weren't allowed to eat in the library, so we would go sit out on the curb in the parking lot and my sister and I would share the snack. My sister is two years older than me, and knew more than I did, and she told me not to tell dad about the snack. After we were done, my sister would take the paper sack back into the library with us and sit at the coloring table and do a nice picture before giving it back to Maryanne.

While we were going through our stacks of books, dad would leave where we were and take a walk. Sometimes he wouldn't come back and my mom's friend would come pick us up and drop us off at home. Usually he would come find us and we would walk to the YMCA and sit on my mom's friends car until she could drive us home. Sometimes he would be back really soon, and if it wasn't too hot, we would walk really far past a huge stone church to a park with tons of trees and a slide.

Late in the summer there was a coloring contest with a page featuring Sesame Street characters. I remember my sister taking it very seriously and doing a few pages and picking the best one to enter. I was always more of a "so what?" kind of guy, so I just colored an Ernie and Bert and moved on with my life. They hung all of the pages up for everyone to see and I noticed that everyone but me had colored the characters exactly the same way! No difference, they were all the same. My sister was poring over all of the entries to see if she had a chance at winning, so as we stood there I heard a kid ask his mom why I colored them "wrong". She said something about how some people don't see colors the same way as everyone else, and I chimed in, "That's my picture! I can see colors fine, but on TV they are only gray. They aren't any color."

Took me a few years but I finally figured it all out. My dad had lost his job, so he sold our only car for rent money. It was too hot to spend all day in the apartment, and the library was the only air conditioned place that wouldn't throw you out after a set amount of time. The huge stack of books was so that we wouldn't get bored if we were there for 6 to 8 hours.

While we read books my dad would walk the ten or so blocks to downtown and look for work. He would sweep out alleys or help unload beer into the walk-ins at bars. If he was lucky he would get $5-10 dollars and maybe a meal, if he couldn't find anything that day he would come back and take us to the park.

Maryanne talked to my sister one day and figured out what was going on. She seemed grown up to me, but she was just a high school student who was working in the library for the summer. She would give us the lunch her mom packed for her to take to work.

The reason my picture seemed so weird to that kid is because the only TV I had know up to that point was a 10" black and white screen in my parents bedroom. Most of the rest of the country had color TVs and a push-button cable box on top of their sets and we still only had 3 "big" channels and 2 UHF channels.

The stress on my parents almost broke up their marriage. The next year we moved out of the city and back to the small town they grew up in. My dad got a job at the factory my mom's father worked at and things got better.

My sister won second place, and chose a set of three 'Little House on the Prairie" books which sit on a high shelf in my parents house.



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