• MJ Rodriguez

Living Poor

Some aunts, uncles and cousins in this photo with us.

I know how to live poor.  I know how to live poor and be happy.  No, I’m not poor, but I was raised poor.  Let me explain.

My parents had twelve children—a dozen—but I don’t know about cheaper by the dozen.  All biological, all healthy, all twelve.  Five girls and seven boys.  My twin brother and I were numbers eight and nine.

My family lived in California when I was born, and there Dad worked in the timber cutting Redwoods.  He served in the military, then we moved south and he started farming.  We lived in a small community where the older children hoed and picked cotton on land Dad rented to farm, and they also hired out to other farmers to work in the fields.  For two years the family worked at truck-patching on an island in the Mississippi River where we lived and where my twin and I started first grade in a one-room schoolhouse.  Then we returned to the small community until Dad bought a small piece of land in the hills.

We were poor, but we didn’t really know that we were poor.  Dad and Mom taught us to work hard, and they taught us to have a good attitude about it.  Those were some of the best lessons we learned from our parents. Dad had a great sense of humor and loved his family.  He always said that we could make work fun, and he showed us how to do it.  We sang, told stories, played jokes on one another, and supported and loved each other.

So back to being poor.  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.  We always said Mom could make something out of nothing, and when the pantry was low, she would whip up meals that were very simple but so delicious.

We sometimes raised our own beef, pork and chicken, and while we often ate meat-free meals, we loved the times we were able to spare a hog or beef to butcher, and when we had enough to spare, fried chicken 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!

Early in the spring before the garden was grown we would enjoy salads made from a variety of plants chosen carefully by Mom from the fields around the house.  The salad would consist of plants such as lamb's quarter, dock, thistle, and wild onions.   This would be served with beans, seasoned boiled potatoes, and cornbread.  Yum!

Mom sewed most of the clothes her daughters wore, and even some shirts for her sons.  I remember her making my twin and me matching tops—a shirt for him and a blouse for me.  I’m not sure he was happy about it, but I thought it was pretty special!  She used whatever she could find for fabric, 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!

My family worked together, played together, and prayed together.  We grew up healthy and happy, and we loved and still love one another.  What wonderful memories I have!

I think my being poor is/was a matter of perception.  Did that mean we had no money?  If so, then we were pretty poor.  But we had food, clothing, and a roof over our heads.  We worked hard—all of us—and managed carefully what we had.  We might not have had nice things like so many others had, 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.  That was what was important.

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