growing up poor

root - Posted on 18 November 2003

a first person narrative

by Jeff/PNN's Southern Ohio Correspondent

I grew up in what is actually the Appalachian region of southern Ohio. There really wasn't much work, so my father could only get part time work as a hired hand on a farm and wasn't always around and mom couldn't have worked if she wanted to because there wasn't any transportation or healthcare accessible.

That’s the thing about being out in the country, there isn't any easy access to healthcare unless you have the money for a car or gas which she had neither.

I had one brother a few years older than myself, we lived in a small older house. It's the kind of house many parents wouldn't want their children staying over for the night. The paint had faded and it had an old leaky roof that had caused the plaster to begin to fall and stained the walls. I wasn't the only kid in the region that was poor, but we had it rougher than most kids I guess.

When kids are young they really don't always know what being poor is all about. As you grow older there is more difference between the haves and the
have-nots, especially by the time we went to junior high, kids seem to divide up into different socio-economic groups when they hang out.

I was
probably considered white-trash, there was no reason for any of the other kids to spend alot of time with me and all of the guys I hung out with were poor also.

It didn't bother me as much when I was young but all of our clothes were handed down. I remember especially when I started to really grow always having to
wear jeans that when I sat down were half way up to my knees. Me and my brother only had one pair of jeans that mom called school-clothes. She washed all
of our clothes out by hand and they had to hang out to dry and there were times when me and my brother had no choice but stay around the house
wearing just underpants, which was common when we were younger playing around the yard but more of a problem as we were a little older.

I would sit in
the back of the classroom so other boys in class wouldn't notice that my jeans were too short or the fact I had outgrown my undershirt. That’s all we ever wore.
We never had any shirts like some of the rich kids had. After a while you learn to deal with it.

I remember one day walking behind some other boys
down the hall, they were talking about my brother, he was the one always getting into trouble, they said something about him being a redneck and the other
one said he didn't even have any school-clothes kind of with a sneer.

Class pictures were always kind of embarrassing too because most of the other kids
were always cleaned and dressed up, and there I was with long black hair wearing the same old scummy clothes that I wore everyday.

Other kids can be cruel.
One reason I am still poor today is because the school system doesn't cater to the poor kids, if you’re having trouble in school, they only work with families that have enough wealth to pay the taxes to support the schools. If you don't have access to wealth then you don't have a fair shot at accumulating wealth as you get older.

Day to day, life was difficult enough without worrying about homework and studying. It's not like we had
areas to study. Our bedroom was just two twin size mattresses on the floor and an old dresser which was never used much.

The problems of rural poverty in
parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio are not always as apparent as what you may see in cities but in many ways more real than most people know.
I remember one Saturday morning I had been out early with Dad to pick up some junk and it was in March so it was wet and when I got home mom had to
wash out my jeans and some other stuff. So I was lying on the couch about 10:00 a.m. watching whatever was on T.V. . About that time a couple
of boys from school who were in my class came by unexpectantly with their father. They were on their way back from basketball practice and this one kid
Josh was apparently going to stay overnight at the other kids’ ,Scotts, house. Scotts dad wanted to see if my dad could either do something for him or find an old part or something so they came in for a little bit and of course Scotts dad had to visit for awhile in the kitchen and the boys came into the room where I was.

could tell from the beginning that Josh, especially, didn't want to be there and wasn't used to being around a house like ours where the wallpaper was peeling off the ceiling and the rug in the room was worn out.

Anyhow, Scott wanted me to go outside with him to look through some old bike parts that were out back by the shed. I
didn't know what to do when they walked in, I was lying there covered by a blanket wearing only a pair of underpants and I think they thought I was just
getting up and wasn't dressed yet. So I said yea in a little bit and I could tell this Josh kid whose father had a lot of money, I think he was a contractor or
something, would use any excuse to get Scott out of there. He wanted to go out and play football, I could tell. We were all in the seventh grade at the time.

Then Scott said, “why don’t you get something on and lets go”. I paused but figured it might be better to show them the room me and my brother slept in hoping that they wouldn't find out I couldn't go outside because the only pair of jeans that I had at all was wet hanging on the back porch where they came in. So I took them into the bedroom to the twin size mattresses on the floor the old dresser with a couple of the drawers pulled out.

I was the only one around, my brother had gone somewhere for a few days. My parents let him kind of run wild, I guess, and he was a few years older than me. Anyhow, Josh said,
“you guys just share this little room, there isn't even a door it just opens up to the hallway and then you just have to sleep on the floor.”

I could tell Scott wanted him to settle down a little bit and not say so much. Scott decided the best thing to do was get Josh outside but he didn’t want to leave without me.

“You know,” he said "get dressed, we don’t have all day, dad will be leaving soon and I want to look through those old motorcycle parts".

I said, “ I don’t know if there is anything in here to wear or not”

Scott said, “There must be something in the dresser” and then Josh started nosing through the open drawer.

I just sat down on the mattress looking up, there wasn’t much I could really say. The house was a mess, I knew all that and they weren't used to living the way we did. Josh said, “I bet there’s something in here someplace as he pulled out another drawer
which only had a few socks and briefs in it.”

Scott went on to say, “ You must have a pair of pants here someplace!”

I said mom just washed our clothes and Josh made a joke about the briefs hanging wet on the back porch. I told them that I may not have anything to put on. Josh went on to say “but theres only one pair of jeans hanging out on the porch, let’s go ask your mom where everything is at so we can get going.”

I finally said, “I cant, you guys go along I'll be out soon, my mom just washed my jeans and that’s all I got I think.”

Josh said, “that can’t be right you have something around here besides that pair .

I finally said, “mom never got us any other pair, that’s all I got and I outgrew all the others I had. I don’t have any clothes anyhow since we’re poor.” Scott acted kind of embarrassed about the situation and didn’t want to say much.

About that time I could hear Scotts Dad calling for him that it was time to get going. I didn’t know what to do, I walked out with them into kind of between the kitchen and living room door standing there as all of them stood in the kitchen for a bit while my dad and Scotts dad said good byes which took a while. I was glad they were leaving but wondered what they might say at school about my house. They knew I was poor, but the fact that I was, you know, fifteen years old, I had failed the sixth grade, and was held back just wearing nothing but a pair of underpants.


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