Under the Line

Kenneth - Center Barnstead, New Hampshire
Entered on May 1, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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As a child, I never had imaginary friends. I always wanted them and tried very hard to keep them around, but for some reason could never sustain them in my mind more than a day or two. I was always a realist, most likely due to my upbringing. I was never taught not to have imaginary friends, but I was never taught how to, either. To me, these friends were a nice thought, but I got much more enjoyment out of the real things in life. My mother always taught me to be a worker, regardless of what it was I was working towards. Whether it was in the classroom, in a job, or in building relationships with others, she was always there to tell me that without hard work, very little can be accomplished.

When I was seven-years-old, my mother and I had a deal: once I had cleaned my room, she would give me a single-dollar food stamp and I could walk down the block to the IGA and buy candy for myself. A food stamp, you say? Yes, a food stamp. For those who have never experienced food stamps, they look very much like money in appearance, but are distributed by the government to needy families for the sole purpose of buying food so the family’s income can be put towards needs like paying bills. Once I got my food stamp I would walk down to the IGA and absolutely beam as I situated my three candies next to my food stamp on the counter. (In those days candies were three for 99 cents.) I would get my penny change and receipt, both of which I would throw in the ash tray on the way out, and be completely overwhelmed with accomplishment.

I had no idea why we had food stamps. In fact, I thought everyone had them. To my seven-year-old mind, the thought of people buying groceries with something other than food stamps was completely absurd. While many people talk of “classes,” whether it be upper class or middle class, my family was only concerned with the “line”: the poverty line. My family and I were so familiar with this line because we lived under it. It loomed above our heads every day.

I never knew we were poor, but I did know that things in my house were different. I knew we went to food pantries, and most of my friends did not. I knew that I only got a few Christmas presents, and my friends got a lot more. I knew that all my clothes came from my older brother, while others’ came from stores. But I also knew that I was happy and healthy. At my age now, not knowing the facts of life is called “ignorance.” As a child, not knowing the facts of life is called “innocence.” And the innocence of a child is among the most pure things on earth. Somewhere along the line we all lose that innocence, never to get it back. I would give anything to regain that innocence. Those were the happiest days of my life.

I believe nothing in life should be free. I believe that if you work for the things you get in life that the sense of accomplishment is much greater. I cannot say this with absolutely certainty, because I have never not had to work for things, but I have seen many cases in others where free things have been taken for granted, and I have never had that problem. Throughout my life I have seen many amazing examples of hard work paying off. From my legally blind mother taming unruly children, to my older sister raising a son by herself, to myself paying for candy with food stamps, I know that when something has been worked for, instead of given, it is much more valued.