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  • MJ Rodriguez

I’m poor?


The family plus Grandma, some aunts, an uncle, and cousins

I grew up poor but didn’t know it. Dad and Mom taught us to work hard and to have a good attitude about it. Dad had a great sense of humor and loved his family. He always said we could make work fun, and he showed us how. We sang, told stories, and played jokes on one another. At the end of the day, we all sat down at our long table for supper and recounted the day’s events. Funny stories, serious talks, and lively discussions ended with the meal, then we finished household chores, read the Bible together, and prayed before going to bed.


Mom was a stay-at-home mom and worked harder than anyone, although she would never admit it. She was truly a Proverbs 31 woman. With the help of the family, she raised a large garden full of all kinds of vegetables and canned hundreds of quarts of food for the pantry. She could make something out of nothing, and when the pantry was low in the spring, she scouted the fields around the house for a variety of wild plants such as lambs’ quarter, dock, thistle, and wild onions to make salads. A big pot of beans and/or seasoned boiled potatoes sat in the middle of the table with cornbread on one side and the salad on the other for a delicious meal.


We sometimes raised our own beef, pork, and chicken, and while we often ate meatless meals, we loved the times we were able to spare a pork or beef to butcher. When we had chickens that weren’t laying eggs, fried chicken or chicken ‘n dumplings made a wonderful Sunday dinner. During the winter months, Dad and the boys hunted, providing the family with venison, rabbit, or squirrel. We enjoyed healthy food with no preservatives.


Mom sewed most of the clothes worn by us girls, and even some shirts for the boys. Once she made matching tops—a shirt for my twin Marvin and a dress for me. I’m not sure he was happy about it, but I thought it was great. She used whatever fabric she could find, including recycled fabric from used clothing. I have worn many dresses and blouses made from printed flour sacks. Mom was a wonderful designer, and some of the best compliments I received was on a dress she designed and made. No one had to know it was made from a flour sack. We also wore lots of hand-me-downs, and the boys wore patched jeans before patched jeans were cool.


I think being poor is/was a matter of perception. Did that mean we had no money? If so, then we were poor. But we had food, clothing, and a roof over our heads. We worked hard—all of us—and managed what we had. We may not have had nice things like so many others, but when I look back, that seems immaterial. And for the most part, we just didn’t think much about it. We were secure, fed, and happy. We grew up healthy and we loved and still love one another. That was what was important.

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