I am poor people

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    I don’t know if this is a rant or a rave… probably a rant against those who think there is something that sets those that have apart from those who don’t besides money.

    I grew up poor… at times dirt poor. I had shoes, but sometimes all that was between the ground and my one pair of shoes was a cardboard insole.

    You could say that i was poor because my mother made poor choices.. two husbands in a row with dissimilar but equally family shattering problems.. violence and perversion. Neither fathers stepped up to their responsibilities towards their children… claiming they were personally deprived and that absolved them of all but minimum legal responsibility.

    it wasn’t her fault she didn’t make better choices for herself and her children. she didn’t know any better… it’ s the life she came from.

    Her grandparents were both well off.. but the depression wiped out family income and left her pampered parents unable to cope.

    She wasn’t educated. Her family pulled her out of school after 8th grade to work in fruit harvests… she was itinerant farm labor before her teens… She got her GED as an adult with young children… college wasn’t one of her options while supporting her kids. She did complete a mail in bookkeeping course and used that to leverage herself into home ownership when i was in my early teens.

    We were house poor. We had the house but our weekly grocery budget was minimal… there was no money for much in the way of entertainment or outside interests… but we went to school. Mom believed in education.

    Unfortunately, our home and mom’s meager income put us just over the limits for the kinds of scholarships that were available to the poor… but her income wasn’t large enough to supply higher education.

    Yet… 3 out of her 4 children went on to college.. and excelled. And the one that didn’t supported herself and her daughters without much help from anyone.. and was the first of us to retire.

    Mom believed in helping others. My mother was nearly the youngest of 16 children, yet cousins in trouble always showed up on our doorstep.. often with children in tow.. and we helped them get back on their feet… bumped from our own beds so someone who needed them more could finally sleep.

    I tell you this because even though i can now afford to purchase shoes that are healthy for my feet and have admitted to being able to rent a view, I am always aware that we are all just a few paychecks… or calamity… away from the kind of poverty i grew up in.

    You could point to mom as an example that people just need to help themselves.. and she did. she certainly raised and educated her children on her own.. and raised us to educate ourselves… but there was still a huge price that was paid for her success.

    we were lucky to succeed… We were raised when it was still financially possible to put ourselves through school by working a couple of jobs… and taking on loans that had to be repaid.

    And each of us recognizes that is no longer possible for our children and have stretched ourselves to see that the family legacy of education and the possibilities that creates is continued… But it wasn’t and still isn’t easy.

    The stress of overcoming the odds is enormous… We are a success, but we are not necessarily a success story. We are no longer poor.. but the experience of poverty still affects us…

    Mom died before her 55th birthday from cancer treated too late… she deferred treatment while still working .. with inadequate insurance… to see her youngest through school… by which time she was too sick to continue working but too proud to tell us anything more than she was moving to be near her sisters. By the time she admitted her illness and sought help it was too late.

    Two out of her 4 children now have disabling chronic illness and the other two are also showing health problems related to early childhood stress and marginal nutrition. I am the oldest… none of us have yet reached 60.

    Mom fed us… and she did her best… but her energy didn’t extend to growing a vegetable garden and her budget didn’t expand to include much in the way of fresh vegetables. We ate starches… they were filling and certainly more nutritious than what she was raised on…

    We were a success story. None of us landed in jail and you would have a hard time distinguishing us from any other middle class… middle aged people on the street. But it wasn’t easy… and all of us could have been far more successful with a little help.

    The poor are not them… even when they have been mired in generations of poverty… they are us… people only as successful as their opportunities and expectations…

    Poverty is not pretty. it is also not cost efficient for our society to raise children in poverty. You pay the costs of poverty up front or you pay them later.. but society does pay… whether through health costs or through law enforcement costs… we all pay.

    It always amazes me when i see a family that has very little give without reservation to those who have less… while those who have a lot begrudge any assistance… to “those” people… and cite their unwillingness to help themselves as a reason.

    There are crooks everywhere.. people who think the easiest way to get by is to take from others… but those people generally think public assistance chump change.

    Those who are willing to take public assistance to benefit their children would do more for themselves if they only saw a way to do so. It’s up to us to provide opportunities and the experiences that expand limited expectations to include those opportunities. Without that help, they are lost. i am lost.



    Nice story, Jo.

    We grew up middle-class and though we were raised to be smart with money, we never felt like we went without anything. We also weren’t raised to think we needed money to be happy.

    I do without some things now so I have a cushion of savings. I could care less about having a flat screen TV or 30 pair of shoes. Give me $500 and it goes into savings or my retirement funds, not a handbag.

    Consumerism is not a religion, though it’s become one in America.

    Many Americans are a couple paychecks (or a divorce or death or illness or job loss) away from being homeless….an uncomfortable fact that most of us don’t want to face. It’s easier to believe we’re somehow different….



    Kayleigh, I’m not sure consumerism hasn’t become a religion — or at least a sacrament.

    After 9/11, Bush, essentially rallied the nation to go shopping. We stood in line to give blood and were heartbroken when it wasn’t needed. Many of us who hate war would have supported any effort to find and neutralize those responsible And our leadership advised, “Go shopping.” Only thing missing was, “Don’t worry your pretty little head…the grownups will figure it out.” Could it be that was because they didn’t want us to notice what they were really planning?

    Now, the economy is in the tank and what are we supposed to do? Go Shopping! Why is the economy in the tank? Because consumers, in a minor miracle, stopped spending when it was obvious we were in trouble. That’s right–it’s our fault. Forget the corporatists. Forget downright fraud. Forget a multitrillion dollar war that doesn’t even show up in the accounting records. It’s us–we stopped charging. Or we’re using our plastic to buy groceries and diapers and pay the electric bill.

    If the cure for this economic debacle is the same as the cause, we are so screwed.



    Your story is amazing JoB! I think more people need to hear from people out there to get them to wake up and take a look at the real world and face realty.

    and…Charlabob you can blame me for the economy. in 2001 I was in college and busy trying to keep up with those i couldn’t…Needless to say by the time I graduated in 2004 I had more than 11,000 of credit card debt. I still I am in awe that credit card companies actually found it a good idea to give that much credit to an 18 year old with a part time job at best. Anyhow I lived and I learned and now am credit card and credit card debt free…



    kayleigh.. wish it was a story.. it really is my life.

    we too have made sure we have rainy day funds.. but i know how little they are when a true rainy day hits…

    in the meantime, i try to help when i can…



    Jo, I meant “thanks for telling your story”….not to imply that it wasn’t real. Sorry—I have been the queen of congestion and so not exactly at my best.

    I can breathe a little better today,so it’s back to work for me.




    The story of your beginnings is a mirror image of my mom and grandma’s life. Reading your post was emotional for me. I want to thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.

    My grandma was born in East Texas near the Oklahoma border. Her father was a sharecropper and a mean spirited man. He chose pride over feeding his family and my grandma knew hunger (and she held bitterness in her heart over this until the day she died). She had to leave school at 8th grade because shoes were required and she didn’t have a pair. She married young and moved West with my grandpa, he worked for the railroad. He contracted TB working in the Colorado coal mines and was very sick for most of his adult life. They had six children, my mom being the oldest girl. My mom ended up stuck with much of the house cleaning and cooking duties. Her childhood was very short. Grandma worked washing dishes at the VA hospital until she retired at 62. Grandma worked very hard to keep food on the table (she always had a big vegetable garden). Mom says that a pot of beans were always on the stove and that they ate very well growing up. Grandpa was rarely home, and it sounds like when he was around he was mean spirited and miserable. He died right before my mom and dad married, when mom was 21. Although my mom would never say this, it sounds like life was easier for everyone once he was gone (I know that sounds awful). My sisters and I have wonderful memories of spending the night with my grandma when we were little girls. She was a good grandma, but very quirky. She HATED men (can you blame her), and we found her anti-men rheteric pretty funny when we were little. Grandma diligently saved for her retirement, buying war bonds and savings bonds. She died at 90 in her barcalounger chair with her dogs in her lap in the home she had paid off 30 years before. She had just finished watching the 7:00 am news on TV. She absoluted despised G.W. Bush with a passion and it was fun to hear her take on current issues. She was a character and I think, all in all, a great success. Grandma and my mom had a complicated relationship, and when I was in my 30’s and beginning to have children, I felt frustrated and angry about how I perceived my grandma having treated my mom terribly. Now that my own daughter is nearly grown I’m realizing that all mother/daughter relationships are very complicated. I wish I’d figured that out sooner.



    mom and i didn’t exactly get along… she was defensive about her education and when i brought any idea home that wasn’t what she wanted to believe, she was abusive. “couldn’t let my head get so big that i forgot who i was” … again what she had learned from her own family… a family sadly full of pentecostal ministers…

    I think it is always difficult for one generation to understand another.. especially if the previous had to fight a lot harder than they should have to survive.

    We want so much for our children but often forget they need to learn their lessons.. not ours.

    I had a daughter who wouldn’t speak to me for over two years… so understand the conflict well. I am pleased to tell you that she now considers me one of her best friends.

    I’m not.. i’m her mom and biggest cheerleader… but we have a great relationship now.

    this too will pass… or the current way of saying it… everything changes… got me through many a sad night… and turned out to be truer than i ever hoped.

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