Food For Thought
"What is poor?", I asked my mother. She smiled, her hair finally gray, since she stopped using hair coloring, was drapped around her forhead. But these strands couldn't conceal the twinkle in her eyes. "Now it's my story so be quiet and just take notes.", she pretended to complain. I was writing a paper for my American History class and thought she might have some useful information about the depression. I didn't realize her recollections would be so fascinating. She sat back in the chair and absentmindedly played with the gold chain that supported the bifocals that hung from her neck. I smirked, knowing she'd lost her train of thought. That was always dangerous with my mother. Her stories were inherently long; I didn't need to do anything to drag them out futher. With her thoughts again harnessed, she looked back at me and continued.
Poor is going three days with just water and stale bread, and that bread my mother had to beg from the neighbors. God would dad have been angry if he knew mom had done that. The date was just before Thanksgiving, shortly after we arrived in Maine from Massachuettes.
We left Mass in a hurry. I think we where running away from bill collectors. Dad packed up mom and the eight kids, Freddy was the baby and must have been two, Charlie, stubborn Charlie must have 16 and just as cantagorous then as he is now. With the old Woody packed he brought us to Maine. He sold the Woody and we stayed for a time at his family's run down farm. His folks had past on and the property had been abandoned. We all worked hard there. It was fall, too late for planting, The fields needed to be cleared for next springs planting, so Dad and the three oldest boys chose to harvest rocks instead of vegetables. I was five. I remember the piles leaves, of Maple and birch that blanketed our yard with bright reds and yellows. On most days I played outside, while my older sisters, Peggy, May, and Jackie, went to school. Mom prepared our meals, mended our clothes, and took care of Daddy and Freddy. It was funny how similiar Daddy and Freddy were.
My Dad, was the kindest harsh man I've ever known. He never had a pleasant word for anyone. He could never be satisfied. And he wanted so much for each of us. It was just before Thanksgiving, I remember being so hungry. The boys hunted but no one shot a deer. Dad would be out every day looking for work. He would walk back the five miles from town late each evening. On this one night, I heard his slurred speach as he shouted at mom. I still remember what she screamed at him. "You're useless Fred. Your kids are starving because you're a drunken bum." I heard him as he stumbled out of the house and the thwap of the door as it slamped shut. Kneeling in bed, my breath frosted the glass pain, I watched as dad staggered back towards town. May and Jackie were both crying. Peggy was sitting up in bed her arms folded around her knees her face death like in the pale moonlight. I heard the front door open and gently close. I heard the riggety old porch complain as mom sat down on the squeaky glider. I fell asleep listening to the sobs of my sisters and the squeaking of the glider.
The house was quiet at dawn. I peaked into Mom's room. Dad wasn't there. This made me more afraid then the night before. Dad always came home after they argued. Just then I heard a rumble. With my wooly socks and my older sister nightgown dragging on the floor, I ran downstairs jumped up on the old faded sofa, and looked out the window. I saw Dad get out of a very large black touring car. I scurried out, wooly's and all. Into the cold November morning. I almost slipped on the frost but Dad swept me up in his arms. He hugged me harder than I've ever been hugged. I thought he would squish me. He placed his finger to his lips and shushed me. Together we unloaded bag after bag of food and carried it into the kitchen.
Before breakfast Dad and Mom went for a drive together. For the rest of that fall dad would leave every afternoon, in that big old touring car. He wouldn't return until late. I overheard Charlie and Norman whispering one afternoon. They said Dad was running boo's. I talked to Mom about it many years after Dad's death. She admitted he was running moonshine. It was the only way he could feed his family.
My mother sat back in her chair and smiled her Martha Ray smile. Our home with its relative prosperity was worlds away from her childhood home. I glanced down at my note-pad and realized I hadn't written a single word. At that moment I wrote, "I'm sorry I didn't get to know my grandfather."