I think my favorite day ever in the world was Saturday. Most likely the night before I had fallen asleep in my clothes while watching a movie and tickled to death about not having to get up early for school, which I hated. It was normal for my sibling and I to go to bed without pajamas, we didn’t know what pajamas were. I thought it was normal. I’d wake up at whatever time to find my grams sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor while minding the stove to the tune of the radio 📻 🎶 .
The first thing I’d do right after half ass brushing my teeth would run out the back door completely barefoot, jump off the tiny cement slab dragging along my beloved ; my pink and purple BIG Wheel…❤️ The sun ☀ was ever so bright and I simply couldn’t wait to feel that summer heat under my feet, it just had me going with excitement.
Our backyard was conjoined with everyone else’s, the back was a huge space shaped into a rectangle. Intertwined with sidewalks splitting right in the middle and all the sides. The humongous lawns surrounded by our back doors provided clothesline poles which no one ever used. It almost looked like a small football field split right down the middle with the infamous glass covered sidewalk pathway whatever. Ever had a piece of glass stuck in your foot? Ouch!
Anyway, I’d ride all the way around, splitting in the middle and starting all over again on the opposite side eventually ending right back by our backyard door. Throughout the entire ride I could hear the radio blasting as the wind fluttered through my barrettes. There was one particular morning that my granny had on an English station and this beautiful song came on. Now I know it’s called ” Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray. At the time I felt the song was perfect for the the weather and environment. Many times I’d have so much fun that I forget about having breakfast frequently. little that I knew, sometimes there was not much of a breakfast to be served.
My sibling and I would be so excited to see my grand dad come home from what we thought was the store, he’d bring bags of random grocery along with a particular treat. Those those Strawberry Shortcake cups were so sweet and sticky, they were utter bliss. We simply had no idea that the key components were missing, strawberries and cream.
I remember purposely refusing to get up to go to the bathroom in middle of the night out of fear. you see, we didn’t have polka dot floors, But we might as well have. Every time you turn the light on at 2 or 3 in the morning, surprise! The polka dots came to life! Yes! Roaches, roaches everywhere! Seemed as though no matter how much we’d clean around the house, those fuckers still found their way around. To this day, my bladder is accustomed to not disturb me throughout the night. And I still walk around tippytoad. Even during the daytime, my sibling and I would be harassed by these disgusting Tiny Monsters. We’d be playing on the floor watching the Lion King or what have you and see one on the wall or perhaps on our leg! Even though this was pretty much a day-to-day thing, some things you can’t ever get used to. But I thought this was normal.
Huge overfilled dumpsters , abandoned parking lots with abandoned cars that have been stripped and strapped of every little part. Closed down corner stores and worn down busy liqour stores on the corner. The dinginess around the community meant nothing to us, since we never left the vicinity because our school was up the street, we thought the whole world lived like this. We thought every corner in the world had a group of girls playing double dutch or boys fighting over a turn on the bike. We grew up thinking getting a Happy Meal was like Christmas! We thought it was normal.
One of my best memories is walking around the neighborhood with my granddaddy holding a plastic bag and his Cane in one hand and my hand in the other, collecting old soda and beer cans was our thing. I never knew what he was doing with them. I never knew why he would do this, but the long walks along with him were some of the happiest moments of my life. Those smiles gleeming down at me made me feel safe, it always.. always said “everything will be ok”. I thought maybe he just wanted everything to look neat, again, I thought this was normal.
Even if I knew what being poor was all about, I couldn’t tell when I was little. Besides, we always had little snack foods, that for some reason would leave us hungry every time. Even though sometimes we would skip meals all together, I thought it was normal. Because soon we would celebrate with a feast which now I know was the beginning of the month.
My family always seemed to have a car or two, it never occurred to me why they were never brand new. What was new? It was new to us!! But hey, we had cars. We thought everyone had cars. Our TV and fans and other Machinery is were always working, but then again my grandpa was able to fix anything! Sometimes my grand mom would take me for walks around the complex and over to the big dumpsters near the abandoned parking lot. We’d find all types of cool things, a toy for me, though dirty, she explained all we had to do was clean it up and it would be like new. Sometimes we’d find chairs or tables, a salvageable lamp or other nick nacks. To this day I still keep an eye out on what’s left by the dumpster. I learned that a man’s trash could be another man’s treasure a long time ago. Pride was not instilled in me. If anything, I grew up completely humble. This, was mine Norm.
So I say, I didn’t know that we were poor. Because we basically had everything we needed. We had food to eat, clothes to wear to school, if there was no washing machine, we’d wash our clothes in the tub, everything and all of it, I thought it was normal.
My situation is quite common, and I’m very aware of that; but how can we possibly miss something we never really had? There is this 37 minute documentary filmed just 53 years ago I discovered last week, called the Chicago tenement. It was specifically based on this low income building project. The building was built in 1901, but in 1945, the vast majority of tenants were people of color. Long after the otrocity of slavery, many black Southerners heard through the grapevine that going north could provide a much better life filled with opportunities that were unheard of in the south. They were told about jobs, more money, better living conditions and prosperous opportunity for their children! Unfortunately, they were in for a very rude awakening.
For many of us, a working clock was a PERFECT clock so the building probably was satisfactory to us of modest, minimal and humble living. The projects didn’t take a turn until the mid 1960’s when new management took over. This was when the shit REALLY hit the fan.
The documentary was indeed excellent, it provided short but detailed interviews from many of the tenants, showing the conditions of which they lived, how much the rent was and just how much worse off they felt making the big move. So many of them expressed they’re broken dreams and crumbled sense of security. Many had to care for several children, often without a man in the home. Some women Expressed that they would qualify for welfare if their men left the home or died. What kind of shit is that? Sound familiar? Tenants talked about the utter boredom, too. Jobs and attractions were so scarce around the neighborhood, that often there was just nothing to do. This teenage boy in the doc said he and his family were so bored that they barely ever wanted to get out of bed, for what, he said?
There was a part of it that gave me a major flashback, it presented these kids playing outside with old abandoned furniture. The kids only had an old table and a couple tin cans for play tea party with. It brought me back to my childhood where I used to join the neighborhood children jumping on old mattresses and turning old hollowed cars into jungle gyms for fun. I also thought that was normal. We never cared about getting hurt, and we were totally oblivious about germs, those rusty scrapes stopped nothing!
The apartments were small, walls were cracked, mostly one bedroom apartments, barely today’s Studio size. Leaks in their bathrooms, non-working stoves, Homes that seemed dirty no matter how much they clean. Depression was soaring out of their eyes during each interview. Mothers talked about how hurt they’d feel when their children needed a new pair of shoes or a new dress, priority was set on food and housing. Some were numb, and some were trying not to cry on camera. It was certainly hard to watch.
I know that over this blog I have been almost glorifying what happened to be life in the ghetto, but I can’t leave out the sorrows we endured. There were countless times having to go without the essentials, going to school only looking forward to balanced meals and nothing more. Going to bed hungry, not necessarily because we didn’t have any food to eat, but because we’d get tired of rice and beans and empty sandwiches all the time. My personal favorite was salad dressing and bread by the end of the month, my brother loves his with ketchup. But I gotta say that my mom did the best she could for us with what she had and she could make a tasty meal out of just about anything! Not to mention my thick mixed hair was kept beautifully regardless to what we had in our pockets! (mom.. ❤️ 🤗 )
My reasons for blogging about my past are based on Tiny and Priceless epiphanies I’ve had along the way. I look at how well my family and I are doing today. To the people living in the suburbs, the upper middle and higher class people, wealthy folks like Drake and other celebrities , my life even now would look like poverty. Those with endless drive ways and the utter freedom of throwing away leftovers after every meal, they must be super happy right? When we were little the blonde kids with the big houses and the golden retrievers on TV sure looked happy to us!! Never occurred to me that they had just about everything I didn’t. In my eyes we are Beyond blessed. Again, we have everything we need, our faith, our love for each other, food to eat, clothes on our back, a bed to lie in every night and a dream for TOMORROW. If you have these things, what do you have to complain about?
If I had another chance to be born in a different social class, economical bracket, silver instead of plastic in my mouth, and let’s face it, a different color, I’d say absolutely not. I think this is why at such a young age, I liked that song I mentioned earlier, it had a deep message. I learned a long time ago that materials and money don’t ever guarantee happiness. Convenience Maybe, security Maybe, but not happiness. I guess I was never poor after all, because love was always free. ✌🏾