Growing Up Poor

16 May

Personally, I grew up poor in the manner of not having much in material things. My parents didn’t make a lot of income and at times made no income. I have six brothers and one sister. I have a big family on both of my parents sides. My parents separated when I was ten years old. Before their seperation, the family did okay. We had food, clothes, shoes, and entertainment. Not spoiled by any means but what we got made me and my siblings happy. I don’t remember getting anything extravagant.

I remember eating corn flakes, corn meal, puffed wheat, rice crispies, etc. for breakfast a lot. I remember getting the sweet cereals only if they were on a big sale. There were times when we had no milk and used warm water as a substitute. There are a few other breakfast meals that I will talk about later. As for school lunches, mainly bologna sandwiches with cheese and mayo. An apple, an orange, and sometimes a banana. There were no juice boxes for us. Didn’t care for juice boxes because I remember only one kid having them everyday. So its not as if I was the only one left out. I don’t remember dinner stuff as I was always outside playing. I’m sure I ate…just no memory of dinner stuff.

Not all of the food we ate came from the store though. When summer starts it is the start of trout runs up small creeks from the lakes. Then during summer its the salmon runs. This is a time to go hunting for deer and moose as well.  Then after summer is when deer and moose are hunted more due to them fattening up for winter. One summer, I remember going fishing all the time and that’s all we ate…was salmon and trout. This is the reason I despise fish now. I also don’t have the taste to eat deer or moose meat anymore.

There were times that I was only getting hand-me-downs for new clothes. I didn’t mind since my older brother had good taste in clothing. Well, when you look up to your bro anything he wears is cool. I didn’t mind at all. I wasn’t the only one in my peers who went through this. After all, when you’re part of a big family, new clothes are something that happens a few times a year only.

One time, I had a bunch of used clothes. I asked my dad if I could get some new jeans. We went to the men’s store in town and got myself some jeans. I was in high school at the time. I hadn’t realized that I wore them for 5 days straight. On the 5th day one of my friends commented that I must really like those jeans I been wearing them all week. It wasn’t that I liked them or thought I looked good in them, it was just that they were the best piece of clothing I had in my wardrobe. I wasn’t shamed by this fact. I just made sure to start changing my clothes again. haha. After this point though, I was starting to work and bought myself more nice clothes.

When you have a big family its expected that when everyone reaches the same size, that all clothes will be shared. I didn’t mind this after not having much growing up. No one really wore each others new stuff. Only borrowed them after they were used for a while.

What I viewed as treats as a child were in fact because we had nothing else to eat at the time. We had this breakfast “Indian mush”, which is made by browning white flour in a pan then mixing water into it to make a paste. We add sugar into it…a lot of it into the mush and eat. I loved it as a kid. Now that I’m older, we had this because we were out of other things to eat for breakfast. Oatmeal is another thing we had when there was nothing else. I don’t hate oatmeal as much as my parents or grandparents. I hear them even now about how they still can’t eat oatmeal because of their time at residential school and how that is all they ate sometimes. Oatmeal sits for months sometimes. Bread is homemade usually; yeast bread or bannock(fried bread). Everyone loves their bread and when it was homemade it was a real treat for us…IS a treat.

My dad talks now of not being able to get lunch stuff sometimes. I remember going to school with no lunch sometimes. I didn’t care though. Sure I was hungry sometimes but I was having too much fun learning (nerd I know) and hanging out with friends. Now that I think about it, I ate only once a day during these times because I didn’t really eat breakfast.

Despite being poor, I never felt like I was lacking because my family and extended family went through the same thing. If you ask any Native who grew up on a rez, you’ll hear this same story from my generation, my parents generation, and my grandparents generation. I’m sure we could come up with “we were so poor…” jokes for hours. We were so poor I lived on bannock for a month! We were so poor I had to take a shower after taking a crap! so on and so forth.

You can’t complain when you’re poor. You enjoy everything you get and don’t take much for granted. I don’t know if everyone can understand being poor like that. I just hope the stories help a bit.


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