Food for thought

I read this article yesterday, which I am pilfering from this fabulous writer. If you don't already have a staggering Google Reader count, I urge you to go through her archives (as I am trying to do!), and catch a load of her beautiful words. AM.SO.JEALOUS.

Ahem. Anyway.

This article really brought to the surface a lot of feelings and memories that I often don't take notice of in my wayward jam-packed brain.

My father was an aeronautical engineer. Besides the decent salary came the ever-present possibility of being laid off. Forgive the timeline inaccuracies here.....I am not certain when each thing began, ended, and overlapped. I just know that these are things that happened.

After the tragedy of losing my foster brother, my mother began her college degree. She also became pregnant with my brother. Somewhere in all that, my father was laid off for the first time.

We did the normal 'cutting back' things--no dinners out, no unnecessary purchases, no name brand food, no going out to the movies, no beer in the house, etc. We had a vegetable garden in our backyard, so that helped. We didn't water the lawn as much, we didn't drive to the park as often (we walked), we became more conscious of turning the lights off. And when it got cold, my dad had a constant fire going in our fireplace in the living room. We also didn't go on a summer vacation, but honestly, it was okay. My mother did a great job at making everything 'an adventure', and I didn't feel as though I was 'going without' or 'unlucky' or anything. It just was what it was.
Life went on as it normally did, despite these changes. My father learned how to apply for unemployment, which was stressful. He started painting houses, and doing other minor construction jobs, all while searching for another job that would use his degree.

After awhile, my mother got a job waitressing and bartending. She had done this in the past, when my parents were first married, and my father was in college. This helped us get through each month, and as far as I know, we made all our bills.

At some point, summer arrived. We kept the windows open longer than usual in this Texas heat, but we cooled off in our above ground pool. We hung our laundry out to dry, rather than use the dryer. I remember helping my mom hang the sheets in the mornings.

At some point, the pantry got pretty bare. The heat, stress, frustration, and anguish seemed to take hold of our house, smothering us. I sought refuge in the pool, in the shade of my father's trees. I also hid in my books. My mother sought hers in her friends at work, or in the garden. My father sought his in any manual labor he could find. All the unspoken thoughts and feelings seemed to hang in the air between my parents. Things, as a child, I was not able to understand.

I'm not sure when, but at some point I became painfully aware of the fact that our meals were smaller. But I will tell you right now, that I have no recollection of ever going hungry.

One morning, several bags of groceries showed up on our front porch. Another morning, an envelope of cash materialized in our mailbox. Sometimes we would come home to a bag of fast food on our porch. Neighbors brought over casseroles. My mom went to a local food bank, and came back with a box of food. Then she broke out her mother's cookbooks, and learned to make meals with different ingredients.

We survived. And I am not ashamed to say that we took handouts. We accepted help. My parents did what they had to do to make sure I was fed. They busted their asses, and at some point, that wasn't enough. Did we end up losing our house? No. Did we eat at a soup kitchen? No. Were we late on bills, did we steal from one to pay the other? I'm sure we did.

Once my father was rehired by the same company that laid him off in the first place, things went back to the way they were. Mostly. I've learned that things are never exactly the same. I wasn't afraid I would go hungry. Nor was I afraid we would lose our house. I just had this nagging little feeling deep in my chest, that things within our family had been changed forever.

We spent holidays at the area soup kitchen, preparing and serving food to the homeless and hungry. We donated boxes of food to the same food bank we had borrowed from. I later volunteered there while in high school. We went back to helping Kurdish refugees from our church.

My friend and I were chatting about how we 'went without' when we were growing up, after we both read this article. And how now, we seem to take for granted the fact that we have the ability to go to three different grocery stores to find 'the perfect dessert', or to go to a farmer's market for fresher produce. We have freezers and pantries full of essentials and frivolous food alike. And we still go out to eat. More than once a week. We are so very lucky.

I want to take this further by saying that I am willing to 'go without' some of my frivolous food extras (like having 4 different kinds of ice cream in the freezer at once!), to help the area food bank. I will continue to buy the healthy food I buy for my family, and a few of my girl's favorite little snacks, but I am going to start stocking up on necessities to donate. I think it's only right for me to 'pay it forward' and help others, as my family was helped back then.


Heather said...

We always had food, it may not have been the most palatable, but we always had food. And I hate to think of the sacrifices my mom made to make sure we had it. Today, I see people with cell phones and cable tv, and a new laptop every year and the newest everything, going out to the movies every week, and then crying about the cost of the necessities like food and medical care. That stuff isn't free, and you shouldn't expect someone to just give it to them so they don't have to give up their Palm Pilot or weekends at the Lake. It's just so unreal to me, the number of people who think they know what "poor" really is. I'm sure being in social work you must see the truly poor and destitute. I don't know how you get through each day because I would be in tears. I know what it's like to have nothing, and I always want to give the shirt off my back to other people.

Sarah said...

I loved this post-thanks for reminding people that it is so important to help one another and give back

Kim/2 Kids said...

What a great post. I think we often get wrapped up in the messiness of our lives and forget how lucky we are. It is a nice reminder that we all have an obligation back to the community. Thanks!

Misty said...

You know....

I remember being that kid that had to steal to eat, when my mother was "turning tricks" for us to get by. We stole from a gas station to eat. Sad. I try to forget that time in my life.

Paying it forward... a wise choice, a thoughtful choice. And, as exhausting as it can be, I try to do the same. I keep reminding myself that when any number of the 4 or 5 neglected neighborhood kids show up at my door, that some where in there, I have enough love to give them, too.

CP said...

This is so well written. And such a great post to help us all remember to help each other and be thankful for what we do have.

CP said...

Will you email me sometime with an email address? You leave some comments that I would love to reply to.... but can't! Thanks!