I grew up poor, but I was happy.
I spent a majority of my childhood huddled beneath the window panes in our single-wide trailer. I remember my mother peaking out of the blinds as a truck rolled up, reminding me ‘it’s time to be quiet.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but we were hiding from various people making attempts to repossess things my parents got behind on paying off.
I remember eating Kix cereal and Chef Boyardee, drinking Juicy-Juice and milk, WIC staples.
Some mornings, I could hear my window panes cracking as the paper-thin windows contracted with the cold. I would sit on the vent, and pull my nightgown over my knees, making a tent of sorts to trap the heat.
But at Christmas time, we had pancakes and we were warm. We would walk up the road to my great-aunt’s house and there were so many people, you were always nestled between two relatives on a well-worn sofa, so it was impossible to be cold.
My dad was in a union and they always provided our family with some sort of Christmas “bonus,” either a ham or extra pay to provide. My siblings and I ate our weight in Christmas platters of cookies, fudge and buckeyes that my aunts would bring to our family’s Christmas gathering.
We didn’t have an artificial tree until I was a pre-teen and I remember the entire house being drenched in the aroma of the pine tree (more like Charlie Brown tree) our dad had cut down. On Christmas morning, my siblings and I would barge into our parents’ room, screaming, “IT’S CHRISTMAS! WAKE UP!” My parents, still groggy from undoubtedly wrapping our gifts the night before, watched as my siblings and I tore into our Christmas gifts.
We never asked for anything extravagant, no Xbox, no cell phones, and no bicycles. But we always had a good Christmas. My parents always felt the need to apologize, reminding us that life is hard for a stay-at-home mom and roofing, my father’s profession, was impossible in the snow.
But we never knew we were poor because we were surrounded by love and generosity from others. Some of our gifts came from assistance programs, churches and just the kindness of strangers who felt compelled to give to toy drives. I am proud of my family, I was proud to wear my Walmart sweatsuits while the other girls wore clothes from Limited Too (now known as Justice). I had fun playing outside rather than playing PlayStation or Xbox and my sisters and I made our own fun, imagining that we were veterinarians or doctors with our beanie babies. My sisters and I peeled mushy oranges given to us by churches, putting the rinds in our mouths and smiling just to see the other giggle.
But I do remember the first time I realized I was poor. It was after Christmas-time. I was at a friend’s house. She lived in a large house in Minford on top of a hill. She invited me and some of our other friends to come sledding. I didn’t have a sled. She opened the front door of her house and a 10 foot Christmas tree was barely visible under a mountain of opened presents in the corner. She was an only-child and her parents both worked steady, upper-middle class jobs. I just remember being shocked, ‘these were all for you?” I asked her. She didn’t even bother putting them away! I saw Nike, Justice, Victoria’s Secret, Puma, Adidas. All the things I didn’t have, tossed around in heaps, like she could care less. I knew then that I was different, that my Christmas experience was not the same as everyone else. I didn’t know that it was ‘normal,’ for a person to receive so many gifts.
As I grew up, I turned my anger into activism. I realized there were those in the world and my community who had it worse than me. I started donating my clothes, I stopped caring about brands and started buying my own clothes at consignment shops, saving my money so I could buy gifts for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, or blankets for the homeless shelter.
Things have gotten easier for my family, we moved out of our single-wide. My father found steady work, my parents eventually separated, but my mom went back to school. My younger sisters don’t really remember much about those times, but I certainly do, especially when it comes to this time of year.
Occasionally, I hear people complaining about people, asking for “hand outs,” and I remember the programs that helped our family and the kindness of strangers throughout the years. While some find it irritating or aggravating to see organizations asking for donations, for some families and children it can mean the world. There are plenty of families in this community who need help and there are organizations willing to help them, but they need our help too. Please consider donating to these causes, seven year-old Ciara thanks you.