Poverty, One Thing Money Can’t Buy

Old Mother HubbardLearning to get by was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Growing up on a farm, the second of five children, I learned responsibility, despite my best efforts not to.  We were all needed, just to get back.  With stock to feed, hay to make, gardens to care for, there weren’t too many idle moments.  That was before helping Mother in the house, sharing responsibility for the younger children, gardening, canning and freezing produce, and church and school.  School was always welcome.  I dreaded seeing the long, hot summer after I got old enough to really help out.

There was never enough money to go around.  We sewed for ourselves and the little girls, as often as not from the cache of fabric Grandma sent over the years.  It didn’t matter if we liked it or not.  We took out turns at the best, making do with the rest, using patterns several times, or cutting copies from other people’s patterns.  Mother never threw out a button or zipper, taking old ones out of worn out clothes. No need to purchase needlessly.    This was common at the time, saving a good deal of money.  Most outfits turned out well-enough, but I do remember a bright-pink newsprint dress I made when I drew the short straw.  Another time I lost getting fabric with four inch tall lollipops.  Neither was my favorite, but I wore them.  Phyllis had a brown print with stage-coaches on it.  Surely those pieces must have been marked down when Grandma grabbed that fabric.  A few times Grandma tormented us by sending horrible, out-of -style dresses from Goodwill, but that’s a whole different story.  Sometimes they could be remodeled, altered, and updated, sometimes not.  I became expert with alterations and remodeling, something they didn’t even teach in home-economics.

Bud and I got married when we had a year of college left.  Between us, we made thirteen-hundred dollars that year.  I had a loan for my college.  He didn’t.  We both worked student jobs.

Lots of days, we fished in the afternoons.  If we caught fish, we cooked them up for supper.  No luck, we had grits and biscuits and gravy or beans and rice. Plain beans and rice, not beans, rice, sausage, and cornbread with a side of slaw.

More often than not, we caught our supper.  We made just enough money to pay our rent, seventy-five dollars monthly, and utilities less than fifteen dollars a month, since we only used gas for cooking and heating on the coldest nights of winter.  We had no television, air-conditioning, or telephone.  Whatever money we had left after paying rent and utilities went for groceries, way less than twenty-five dollars a month.  In the unlikely event we had a dollar or two left, we might by some gasoline.  It was understood, if our parents wanted us to come visit, they’d have to buy us a little gas to get back home.  Two or three dollars would do it.  I think they were glad to pay up, just to get us on the road.  We’d get home for major holidays.

I never felt poor.  I didn’t worry about what would happen if we had a problem, just understood we’d do something.  I learned then, that if you had enough to eat, clean water, something to wear, safety and shelter, that’s a blessing.  The world is full of people no less deserving than I who struggle for that.  If worst came to worst, one of us could get a job long enough for the other to graduate.  It was a wonderful time.  We’ve never been more carefree or had more fun. It’s good we didn’t have a dog, though.  We’d probably have had to eat him!

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43 thoughts on “Poverty, One Thing Money Can’t Buy

  1. Unless one were truly down and out, poverty can be a virtue, an essay in patience and fortitude. I still don’t throw out cast off buttons and zippers! As always, you paint a vivid picture that makes me kind of nostalgic.

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  2. I remember those days when all our clothes were sewn at home and zippers and buttons were removed to be recycled onto something new. It seemed everything got altered and reused until it became a rag.

    I don’t remember how old I was when I learned how to sew, but I was pretty good at it.

    You said it very well … we had a roof over our heads, enough to eat, and clean clothes … I never felt poor. At least not until I left my hometown and saw how others lived. Even then, I felt luckier than many.

    A very thoughtful post.

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  3. It seems that the happiest times of life are when you have the least. Struggling to survive is such a bonding experience, and the simple joys are the best. This reflects how you came to be who you are, Linda. A fabulous piece of work. Thanks for sharing. ☺ Van

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  4. Love this post! My husband and I lived in a two room garage apartment the first seven years we were married. We use to sneak into the lot behind the drive-in theater (we didn’t have a car) sit on a log, and watch the movie with no sound. Some of the most wonderful moments of my life. Thanks for sharing. G-uno

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  5. Good stuff. Have you ever watched HGTV’s House Hunters and seen young, snotty people looking for houses? I ditched cable service when I came to understand why people took their shotguns to their TVs. I put myself through college degrees like you did, and although was dirt poor until almost age 30, there was some fun along the way!

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  6. That was so lovely, thank you for writing it. I am getting ready to retire in two years and believe it or not I am looking forward to living on almost no money, to grow most of my food, of working a bit on the farm down the street and just being, so wonderful to be free of the constraints of money and all that it can bring. It probably sounds odd but I can’t wait!! raised my four kids by myself with very little so I know of what I speak, except this time I don’t have to worry about providing for anyone else and i need very little! I am really looking forward to reading more of you blog!! You are my kind of people!! Michelle

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    • Don’t forget to shop Goodwill, check markdowns at the grocery store, and don’t buy more than you can use. That helps so much. You can save a lot making your own laundry detergent and using the clothesline. You probably know all these things. I always drive my vehicles as long as I can keep them running, and get all my errands grouped to do one day. It really helps. It feels free. I never buy Jam or jelly, just cook my apple or pear peelings and make my own.

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  7. …If the cat didn’t get to him first.
    In an age of relentless consumerism and instant gratification those are some skills that should be picked up more often. Although maybe without the stagecoach material.

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  8. Linda, that was gold. It really resonates with me, but more for my older sisters than for me. They did the brunt of all the chores. My job ended up being dish washing near the end. I fought it tooth and nail…but inwardly loved it because my mind would drift into deep thinking.

    Those earlier times were hard…but there really was a blessing in them.

    Thanks so much for this one.

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  9. Thank you, Linda, for sharing this wonderul part of your life. You definitely did not sound pour. Actually you sound like having the world because you focused on life itself. Very inspiring and insightful. Thank you again!

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