Sandra - Winchester, Virginia
Entered on January 7, 2009
Age Group: 65+


Our mom, who passed away three months short of her 98th birthday, often told us stories of her childhood. It wasn’t an easy time to be a poor kid. It was made even more difficult because her father was an absent drunk—returning home once in awhile to get Grandma pregnant. Then, he’d leave to bootleg, to drink, and once to burn down the house for insurance money. He was serving a prison term for bootlegging when Mom graduated from high school.

Mom talks about times when Grandma would run out of money and means altogether even though she tried to stay employed cleaning houses, ironing clothes, minding other peoples’ children. When the money dried up, she and her brood of five would hitchhike back to their little Missouri village to live with family. From northwest Illinois to northwest Missouri, they slept on jailhouse floors along the way. Mom was the oldest child and she suffered more from her dad’s behavior than her siblings did.

Mom alternated schools between these two states all the while she was growing up. On one particular occasion, she returned to Missouri and was placed in a school in what she called an “upper class” neighborhood. She was able to join the Girl Scouts, a real treat for her. In fact, she was so pleased to be a Girl Scout that she cherished the pin all her life and gave it to me for safe keeping before she moved into a nursing home.

As a fifth grader in her new Missouri school just before Christmas, her whole Girl Scout troop and their leader presented her mother with a basket of food for the “poor family.” Mom thought these girls were her new friends, equals. Her feelings were really bruised. She was humiliated. Now she knew they looked at her as a poor kid—maybe they weren’t her friends after all. Her already fragile heart was now broken.

Those bruises never disappeared. Deep down, she felt her peers thought she was less than they were, and the incident and its humiliation bothered her to the end of life.

Times are tough today–somewhat like they were when my mom and dad grew up during the first quarter of the last century. My brothers and I heard many stories of their experiences before and during the Depression.

I hope this re-telling of my mother’s experience will serve to help us all as we endure our current problems. We must be sensitive–very sensitive–when dealing with children in need. We have more safety nets in place now and more agencies to deal with catastrophic situations. However, children will always be innately perceptive, and for that reason, I hope we can spare them unnecessary hurt feelings.

Our American children are not being killed and maimed by adversaries like so many children around the world. However, we should do what we can in our present situation to keep them healthy both physically and mentally.

Times are different. Nevertheless, hardship is everywhere. I hope everyone will try to spare the children the pain of poverty. We must keep in mind that children are not responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. I believe we must help to smooth the way for them so they don’t live with scars resulting from insensitivity which might last a lifetime. We can do this.