Sep. 02, 00:30 AM
By Gaye Bunderson
I've never been hungry. Aren't I fortunate? There are many people in the U.S. ― children not excepted ― who suffer from food insecurity. It's great that the government helps provide food for children both in school and during the summer months. Those children depend upon the free or low-cost meals to save them from hunger.
I, however, have sometimes questioned why a parent is unable to provide sufficient food for his or her child or children. That's because when I was growing up, my father worked a well-paying job, so it is a situation totally foreign to me. I never experienced a day in my life when I didn't have food readily available. My family never went through that at all.
But, actually, that isn't entirely true. Yes, it's true for me, but it wasn't always true for my mother when she was growing up. I don't wish to paint Mom's childhood with a gloomy brush. I actually love the stories of her youth. She didn't have a privileged childhood, and to me, that's what makes the stories so intriguing.
I have the deepest and most profound respect for my grandparents ― all four of them. Unfortunately, my paternal grandfather died when I was quite young, but the years I was able to spend with my three remaining grandparents make for some of my best memories.
Here, I'm going to speak of my maternal grandparents. When Mom was growing up, her dad mostly worked as a miner, and Mom grew up in some pretty small towns in Idaho, Nevada and Utah ― in fact, it wouldn't really be correct to even call some of the places where she lived “towns” at all. Last summer, we visited a place called Birch Creek ― in the Idaho Falls area ― where Mom lived as a girl. She went to school in a one-room schoolhouse that is, surprisingly, still standing. My grandfather actually worked an agricultural job at that time, and Mom and her siblings helped cut potatoes for planting.
So back to the times when Grandpa was a miner. His job being out in the hills, that left my grandmother to pretty much carry on as a single parent. She worked and provided for her children, as well as cooked and cleaned and all the other things moms do. She once surprised me by telling me she only finished the 10th grade; up until then, I had no idea my grandmother was not a high school graduate ― and I was in my 30s when she told me that.
When Grandpa mined up in the mountains, he was unable to send money to her to provide for the children. He was working and trying to make a living; but in the meantime, it was up to Grandma to be sole provider. And it wasn't easy.
My mother had four siblings ― three sisters and a brother ― as well as two half-brothers who sometimes came to stay. She's told stories of eating oatmeal for breakfast; then, her mother would slice the thick, leftover oatmeal and fry it for supper. She never tells those stories with self-pity. There was happiness and love in the family. Mom said there was always something to eat, just not much in the way of variety.
One story my mother does tell is actually a little heartrending. She and her younger sister were sent to the store by my grandmother to buy things on a list Grandma had given them. They went throughout the store putting things that were on the list in a shopping cart. When they got up to the checkout stand, the store owner told them to put it all back because my grandmother was behind in paying the grocery bill.
Now, my mother is no wilting wallflower type. However, she was 12 at the time; and as she and my aunt went throughout the store putting all the groceries back on the shelves, they were crying. It was embarrassing, Mom said. And of course it would be.
When my grandmother heard what happened, she went to the store owner and told him if he had issues with her, to contact her personally but never treat her children like that again. She went on to tell him that if he didn't have enough courage to confront a grownup, he could at least not humiliate the children. I can only imagine her anger, especially when it came to protecting her kids. It was enough to make the grocer realize he had been out of line.
Sometimes it's the hard-time stories that are the most interesting. I don't have any hard-time stories from my growing-up years. I could only tell you about how when Mom came home from shopping day, we raided the grocery bags for snacks ― and there were lots of them.
The important part of this story is that my mom and her siblings all grew to be wonderful people and to make great lives for themselves, and I think the reason for that was: despite my grandmother's hardships, she always loved her kids, and they knew it without a doubt.
So I need to say that if people out there are struggling, you have my utmost respect. I just need to remember that not everyone was fortunate enough to grow up like I did. Never lose hope if you're struggling. Remember that though food is essential, love is powerful.
Love your kids harder than your hardships, and in so doing, give them a childhood that will make them amazing adults.
Note: If you are a single parent yourself ― or if you are married and your spouse is deployed or otherwise out of the area due to work ― you will benefit from reading contributor Robert Rhodes' story on single parent strategies in this issue.