Not so poor after all

Before I married, someone said, “You’re going to be poor the first 10 years anyway, so go ahead, get married and get started.” This proved to be quite true. We were poor.

How poor were we?

So poor that we bought the one house in the village that no one wanted because it needed so many repairs. By the time we left, the next owner thought they might be able to do something with the old place.

So poor that we eagerly accepted the dusty old couch, chair and beds that came with the house. We needed some place to sleep. Only after I woke up with a backache every morning and my husband tried my side of the bed did we buy a mattress.

So poor that we didn’t garden because it was a fashionable, urban hobby. We did it because we actually needed to save the money. We also needed the jars of fruit I canned after we visited the nearby U-pick orchards. Long hot days spent cleaning, steaming and supervising the hot baths of jars in a kitchen without air conditioning meant supplies on hand when the winter storms hit.

So poor that we only had one car that my husband drove to work each day. I still managed to get around. So poor that that lesson lingered when our children became teens – “You want to go? Find a ride, walk or stay home.”

So poor that when we went on vacation we camped in a simple tent and tried to find a comfortable spot to sleep on the ground. Hotel beds, even in a roach motel, get a higher rating with me.

So poor that I patched the patches on the boys’ jeans. I knew how to use a sewing machine, so if adding another layer of denim would make them last a bit longer, that is what I would do. Today’s artfully distressed and torn jeans scream “thread a needle and get busy sewing!”

So poor that we could not immediately repair the big hole of crumbled plaster in the kitchen wall. My mom covered it up with a fabric-wrapped piece of cardboard and declared it our family bulletin board. I missed it when we remodeled the kitchen a year later.

So poor that we did not have a garage when we lived in a snow state. My husband parked in the snow drifts and made a deeper rut each day as he took off for work.

So poor that I did not have a bread pan to use when I began making bread. Instead I baked two loaves in a cake pan and presented the family with ready to fold sandwich bread.

So poor we could not afford a gym membership to keep fit. It didn’t matter. With only one car, I walked everywhere when I wanted to go to the community activities a mile away. Pulling a red wagon of little kids a couple of miles at a time kept me healthy.

We were so poor that movie night meant hauling out the slide projector and viewing the family slides while eating popcorn made on the stove top. A family fun night did not take us to town to the entertainment center, it took us to the dining room table to play board games or to compete in a Lego building contest.

We were so poor that we did not have a television. We had a free library where we loaded our red wagon with 30 or 40 books each week and spent the afternoon and evening reading them.

We were so poor that with hand-me-downs I had nothing to contribute to a yard sale. Everything needed to go to the next boy in line.

We were so poor that we did not have a washing machine. Every week that first year, I loaded the weekly wash into the red wagon and walked down to the laundromat to wash and dry clothes. A new baby spurred my husband to begin the kitchen remodeling which included installing a used stack washing machine and dryer.

We were so poor that when I asked my son what he wanted for his birthday, he had no idea. He had never watched a TV commercial, seen a flashy magazine article or heard any catchy lyrics about the year’s hyped toys. He just knew that he wanted a toy. Whatever toy I bought him for his third birthday would suit him just fine.

We were so poor that I decorated the kids’ birthday cakes myself. I am not artistically gifted. The cakes lacked class. But by gum, they always had a cake and a present.

So I guess we weren’t so very poor after all. We had a car – the measure of great wealth in most countries. We had enough cash for toys, photography, a vacation, three square meals a day, a warm bed and enough clothes to keep the washing machine going through the week.

Most of families around the world live on a lot less. Truly we were immensely blessed.

(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at