11/29/08

What You Don't Know About Me: Once, I was Poor

In 1975, when I was ten years old, my mom threw everything she could carry into the trunk of our old Buick and drove my sisters and me from Montana to California.  This was how she told my father that she wanted a divorce.

Divorce is hard on women.  This is a well-known fact.  Their incomes dip precariously and they are often thrust into lives of poverty.  My mom had two years of college under her belt, and she had not worked for money in the previous fifteen years.  Her options were limited, but she found a job working in the office of an insurance company and, after a few months living with my grandparents, she got a furnished two bedroom apartment with gold and orange shag carpet.

One day she took my sisters and me to a thrift store.  She bought hangers and a black and white television.  She also bought me a white button down sweater.  It was acrylic and had gold buttons.  I told her I didn't want it, but she bought it anyway.  Good old Hester had her Scarlet A, and I had that sweater.  It filled me with shame just to look at it.  It had belonged to some one else, some other little girl, and I just knew that if I wore that sweater everyone would know that we were too poor to buy new clothes.  I just knew that the real owner of that sweater would see me and tell everyone that I was wearing a used sweater.  I think I wore that sweater one time.  My mom made me.  I was glad when it got too small and my mom brought it back to thrift store and I never had to look at it again.  

6 comments:

pasadenaadjacent.com said...

Did you ever meet the be-dazzled sweater girl?
http://www.7dvt.com/2005/sweater-girl

My mother has a similar story but in her case it was a hand-me-down from the rich girl. Yup, rich girl told everyone and my mother is horrified to this day. There is no such thing as an antique in my mothers world. New or used

Kathy said...

Sounds familiar. My parents separated when I was in 6th grade, and we had to sell our house. I remember hauling everything we couldn't carry in our car out to the curb, including the dollhouse I'd made myself and stacks of National Geographics. We didn't have a place to live, so we crashed at a series of my mom's friend's houses. I guess we were homeless, but we did have a bed each night. My dad was and is a wonderful guy, but it was hard to support two households. In fact, the stress hurt him so much that he got mono soon after they separated. At least my parents didn't fight, and always let us know they loved us.

I think it made me stronger. It also made me want to never make my kids move out of their school and it made me a good cook. And in the end, I got four cool stepsiblings out of the deal.

Susan C said...

I was poor but didn't know it until years later. When I was in college, I was bragging to someone that my younger brother got to go to Head Start. This was a big deal to me because my older brother and I didn't get to go to kindergarten. (There was no such thing.) She looked at me incredulously and said, "That's a government-sponsored program for low-income families." I hadn't a clue.

Very interesting about the "used" sweater. When I was counseling a very low income friend about finances, I suggested that she buy her daughters' school clothes at thrift shops. She couldn't bring herself to do it, even though she was behind on all her bills.

I guess there's a big difference between shopping at thrift stores because you want to (like I do) and because you have to.

altadenahiker said...

How desperately brave or bravely desperate your mothers must have been.

Margaret said...

AltadenaHiker: I think leaving my dad was the bravest thing my mother ever did. I still marvel. It was a good thing to do too. I am a better, saner person for it.

Margaret said...

Pasadenaadjacent: Now my life is better. The trauma of my thrift store sweater is erased by the glamour of gem sweaters. Thanks.