We didn’t grow up thinking of ourselves as poor, although I expect we were. I don’t remember wanting for anything, although if I had paid attention perhaps the kids in my neighborhood wore their school clothes longer than some. But our mothers passed things back in forth in those days before lawn sales and consignment stores, so we had enough.
I remember some agency or other sent home a survey from school asking about our meals for the past week or so. Perhaps it had something to do with school lunches, I don’t remember, but I do remember Mom adamantly refusing to fill it out. I asked her why – she said it was unfair and discriminating. She said that a family that hadn’t enough to eat, or only something like baked beans all week, would be at a disadvantage and humiliated and she wouldn’t be part of it. Later I tried to figure out if she meant us as well, but we always had enough to eat, and if we had eaten baked beans it would have been Mom’s homemade beans which were a Saturday special at our home and many other homes. So no one was running around having cocktail parties or going to the theater, but life was wonderful and exciting anyway. And we could share what we had. We couldn’t have birthday parties, maybe, but we each got to have a friend over for supper on our special days. Stuff that would never appear on someone’s government survey ever.
A favorite memory is of a day our cousins from Johnson came to visit. In general we all tried to avoid visiting at mealtimes, but it was a wonderful afternoon and time passed quickly. Eventually it was close to supper time – the Johnson folks were an hour away from theirs, and no one, including adults was particularly ready to call the happy day to a close. It is hard to believe how very far away Johnson seemed at the time, but it was. So they were asked to eat with us, which they declined, of course (“Oh, no, we didn’t plan to be here at supper. That’s too much to ask!”) but were talked into – probably one line being, “You didn’t ask, we offered!”. Then they started discussing what we had enough of to feed all ten of us. They decided that there were milk and eggs and always enough flour, so pancakes would be the menu.
Naturally us kids were all for that, and certainly for more time to play outdoors. The adults mixed and measured, set the table – a snug fit — and took turns frying the flapjacks. Cousin Gilbert showed us how to keep a pancake from sticking and then actually flip it with the frying pan. Though my extensive familiarity with comics led me to believe that was a common thing, I had never actually seen it (and still haven’t!) I was impressed.
Since we always had maple syrup, provided by Gramp and Gram who made the stuff (a real luxury, although we had no idea), we were set. Mom made coffee – even the kids were allowed coffee since it was her belief that the sweetness of the syrup made milk taste horrid. Everything about that evening was incredibly merry and the unexpectedness only added to the warmth and fun. After everyone was stuffed and sweetened, we wound down our games and conversations. Then they piled into their car to go home.
It was a wonderful time to live – we don’t have a lot, but you are welcome to stay. Pancakes or sandwiches, what’s mine is yours. Kind of like a country song – and all true. Wouldn’t you rather be in a song than on a government survey anyway?