Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Who Ate My Cheesey Poofs?Both of my parents reached adulthood during the Great Depression of the 1930's. As a result of my parent's deprivation, my childhood was filled with phrases like, "When I was your age, we walked ten miles to school.", or, "After school, we would work at the neighbor's farm, picking tobacco until dinner time, for 5cents an hour." "We didn't have a TV." That much, the part about the TV, I knew was true, as unimaginable as it seemed. The part about child labor, seemed like a stretch, but who knows, maybe it was commonplace for parents back then to send children into the fields. You would think, that my parents, after growing up in such a harsh environment, would have not have embarked on a marriage that produced 7 children, so many mouths to feed at one time, and in our urban neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, there were no nearby fields to harvest, there were the Stockyards, and the Sherwin-Williams paint factory, neither place a friendly environment for kids.
We grew up frugally, my mother cooked every day. There were never left-overs, if you did not wolf down your dinner immediately, and grab quickly for seconds, you were shit out of luck, the sibling next to you, had already snagged whatever was left. Even today, when I stay with my mother, the dinner portions are tiny, and when I open her freezer, it is filled with tiny tin foil packages containing the remains of a vegetable from weeks ago, a half of a chicken breast, three green beans. No amount of food is small enough to find it's way into the trash. We didn't drink soda or kool-aide on my parent's budget, and on the occasion that we were allowed a treat, Hostess Twinkies, we had to split the six individually wrapped desserts between 8 of us. The math we had to figure to split these treats between all of us evenly served us well with fractions. When I was finally old enough to leave home at 18, and get my own apartment, my first purchases at the grocery store were a six-pack of DR. Pepper, and a whole family sized box of Hostess Twinkies that I did not have to share with anyone.
My father would sometimes cook for us when my mother was bearing yet another little sister, another little brat who I would have to share my dinner with, and he would make us Depression Era Favorites of his, sentimental horrors from his youth. There was the bread, butter, and sugar sandwich. You think I'm kidding. It was a disgusting concoction that crunched when you bit into it. Another of my dad's favorites was green beans cooked with potatoes and bacon grease. He liked to tell the story of the time when a semi-trailer full of beans over-turned on the next block, and all of the neighborhood kids ran out with sacks, (they did not have plastic bags back then, but something resembling the bulk bags that contain 50lbs of potatoes for my business, only they were made of burlap, and apparently re-usable), and the kids scooped up the beans, and that was dinner for the next six months.
Today, for dinner, I was planning on a real treat. I was again having a cheese sandwich ( still no money for that pizza until Friday, but I ate all of the ham last night, but I still have some cheddar cheese) and I splurged, and bought a single serving of Cheese Puffs to go with it, instead of a lame banana. I was truly excited, at the prospect of a bag of junk food that I could call my own, but when I looked in the kitchen for my Cheese Puffs, I found an empty bag in the trash. I whirled around, thinking that my sisters were lurking somewhere in my house, but it was only my partner A. with an incriminating orange ring around her mouth. I was about to fly into a tantrum, thinking to myself, "Well I'll just eat her whole box of Frosted Flakes!", when I remembered that we're not living in the Great Depression. Officially, we're not even in a recession. John McCain has stated repeatedly the the economy is sound. President Bush said on Friday, “We are a prosperous nation with immense resources and a wide range of tools at our disposal,” he said. “We are using these tools aggressively.”
I'm still bummed about my Cheesey Poofs.
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?
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