Growing up Poor

It wasn’t until I turned ten years old that I realized my family was poor.

Our parents’ obedience to Catholic dogma kept dear Mother pregnant almost every two years for 24 years of her dutiful life. I was at the tail end of that physiological journey, as the eleventh live birth of twelve pregnancies.

The sweet oblivion of youth kept me and my slibings occupied around our large back yard, the nearby forest, train tracks and the river leading to the shores of the refreshing Georgian Bay.

Father was a carpenter who would be gone for days at a time with a construction crew building houses. Sometimes they would work on the Bay, building cottages for the rich summer residents.

When he came home with his pay envelope, Mother would relieve him of the paper money to manage within the household budget and diligently log entries in her ledgers. My closest sister and I would compete over the loose change. Back then, a quarter would get you plenty of treats at the nearby Creamery.

We were rich with outdoor freedoms and resourcefully constructed forts or playful – and sometimes dangerous – distractions.

We were poor in comparison to our friends who had new bikes, toys and fashionable clothes. Hand-me-downs got a little worn out by the time they reached the youngest child. One consolation and joke we made in our later years was that the patterns, fabric or style of clothing would have come back into fashion by the time they reached me! 

During my young adult life, I remember a conversation with Mother, her recollections of occupying an entire pew with a gaggle of ragged offspring at Sunday mass while observing the well-dressed families of three or four sitting in pews nearby. She suspected that they were likely abstaining from intimate relationships or worse! taking birth control.

And why the fuck not? Yet… I would not be here if they risked that disobedience.