Government Peanut Butter

A friend of mine asked me to share this story again.  Growing up poor is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a person.

I am writing this story after reading a moving story about growing up poor.  Because I think I am terminally unique, I like to imagine that my experiences have never happened to anyone else.  In reality, I know they are different, but certainly not anymore trying than those whom have grown up with little.  As a teenager and young adult, I always created a very different upbringing, one with parents that were together, plenty of food to eat, suburbs, girl scouts and more.  I never told anyone the truth because I was always too ashamed.  It is a blessing today that I am not ashamed of these events anymore, but rather pleased that I have lived a “lot of life” in these 48 years. 

 

I shared in another story about being different and this is a continuation and addition to that story.

My mother and father divorced when I was 5 years old.  Prior to the divorce, we were far from rich, but lived in SF, they owned their own home (bought by my grandfather) and from what I understand were getting by quite comfortably.  This way of life ceased to exist within months after their separation.  I have little memory of those early years, but some which I am sure I will share somewhere else at a later date.

Funny how food seems to play a major role in a lot of my stories; kids remember the strangest things.  My mother was on welfare by the time I was 6.  She was a struggling artist who stayed true to her love, but brought little economic security to our household.  The men in her life are another story, but save to say, they too had little in the way of financial support.  We lived in so many different homes, that it is difficult for me to remember them all.  Four that stand out are 1st, the illegal apartment with the toilet in the kitchen and 2nd, the railroad flat in the Mission District, 3rd the converted school bus placed on the Truckee river in Northern California, and 4th, the cement house with no electricity or heat, but that was situated on 20 acres of gorgeous property also in Northern California.

The apartment with the toilet in the kitchen was one of the strangest places I have ever lived.  My brother and I shared a room that had a dirt floor, my mother’s room was also her art studio and at night, she converted her work table into a bed.  Thankfully, she was creative and our house was filled with color, many strange chochkees (don’t know how to spell this word) and a lot of art supplies.  We lived in that apartment for about 2 years (it was in Bernal Heights for those of you that know SF) and in spite of it all, I have some lovely memories.  My best friend lived next store and we played outside until well after dark (a much safer place back then).  The neighborhood hadn’t been developed yet and we actually had a hill behind our house that had trees and many places to hide and play in.  We had a rope swing on a big tree and all the neighborhood kids would gather there.  I remember having a visit with my dad where he bought me an 8mm movie camera from a pawn shop.  I had so much fun with that camera.  Many a movie was made on the back hill with all of my friends being stars.  I wish I still had those movies.  I could go on and on about the games we played/created, the struggles we faced and the love we shared, but as mentioned often, for another story.

The railroad flat in the mission district – wow, I thought we were living the lap of luxury when we moved there.  I had my own bedroom, the apartment was legal even though run by a slumlord, and we had a hallway that you could do cartwheels down.  The downsides – the carpet looked like something was growing out of it, there were tons of roaches and it was across the street from a mortuary.   It also had another unique feature – downstairs there was a little voodoo shop that sold various religious candles, incense, spells and other strange things.  We were scared to death of the place and the people that ran it and patronized it.  As a child, my view may have been exaggerated, but it felt very scary.  The people that ran it were always trying to get me and my friends to come in – we never did, but certainly made up plenty of stories about what we thought was going on inside of that shop.  The Mortuary game was another strange one – we witnessed so many funerals, that we played a game counting the number of cars for each funeral; who the person was that died and most importantly, how we thought they died.  Pretty dark stuff at such a young age.

Since this story is becoming much too long to hold the interest of any reader (but very cathartic for me), I will save the other houses/buses/apartments I lived in for another story.  I will however, share the reason I titled my story “Government Peanut Butter”.

Food was always an interesting part of our lives.  My mother was constantly trying every hippy diet that came along in the mid 60’s and 70’s.  So, I imagine it was difficult for her to incorporate the government food that we were given.  For those of you that grew up in the 60’s and 70’s on welfare, you may remember the government supplements that were given with food stamps.  I will never forget the huge metal tins of peanut butter, blocks of Velveeta cheese, and powdered milk.  My mother would try and trick me by putting powdered milk into regular milk containers.  To this day, I always smell the milk before I drink it; I didn’t eat peanut better for 20 years and I will never, ever eat Velveeta cheese in this lifetime again.

On a more positive note, even in the midst of the poverty, clear dysfunction and a very young mother, we had a lot of love and fun in our household.

childoftheland childoftheland
46-50, F
26 Responses Aug 24, 2009

Hope this is not shared on Facebook, I loved the stories and descriptions. I grew up unfortunate but feel very fortunate when I think about the good times like you did.

I grew up in the 90's and remember the FDA stamp on the side of my cystern of peanut butter very well and all that gooey seperated oil....The powered milk thing if hilarious,i think every food pantry mother tries the same thing with it...

Aloha to you too BCJ - miss you. Happy holidays my friend!

Aloha, Princess

Thank you for your lovely comment Lou 2012. I am rarely on ep anymore and was pleased to get such a touching comment. Yes, we have been there and done that. I hope you had a very Merry Christmas.<br />
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Aloha and Mele Kalikimaka!<br />
Child of the Land

Much of your story touched on much of my life as well. My parents came to this country at the height of the great depression... yet we never knew of the hard times the entire country was in. <br />
Being foreigners, we didn't know about the peanut butter. My brother and I also shared a bed in a room with a dirt floor. My dad left us when I was 11 so I got a job after school on the waterfront in L.A... doing work no one else wanted.. unloading banana's and frozen tuna from the ships. I told them I was 18.. the guy just smiled. <br />
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I didn't know we were poor until I went to Jr Hi.. Instead of counseling they told me I should just find some kind of work.. I didn't tell them I had been working sense I was 11.. I was afraid they would take it out on my mom. <br />
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These holidays are what I remember best and how good our Christmas's were. No gifts just things my mom did.. I really miss that... and I can't wait for the holidays to end..as they are now.

What a touching story. By far not too long and it definitely grasps the attention of those who read it. You are a wonderful writer. I commend you for having the ability to remain positive even though you went through such hardships. <br />
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Thanks for sharing this.

Thank you joykay13! Rough times always make you appreciate the little things in life. I guess it is time I wrote some more stories. I have been away from EP for too long.

I totally agree! I was just getting into the story and yes, I do remember the peanut butter, cheese and how about those cans of pork? I didn,t grow up with commodities, as my folks didn,t believe in them, but after my marriage we had it really rough for a few years. Sure takes me back Child. Please write more!

Wondeful story. Have a good day

Loved reading your story .. one line that stood out more than any other for me was <br />
' our house was filled with colour'<br />
Your artistic mum has given you so much that could never be bought or bartered for. You write about happy memories, love and fun . ..<br />
You had a background that has enabled you to appreciate everything good life has to offer

that was sooooo nice...pls do tell us more...it kinda reminds me of my grandmother..she always you don't need money to be happy..she was so right!

Thank you randyfblack. My mom has her moments, but angel is not how I would describe her :)

That is a very moving and inspiring story childoftheland. Thanks for sharing. Your mother sounds like an angel.

Sliderule - what a great comment! Mac & Cheese from scratch with Velveeta actually sounds not half bad. It has got to be better than the powered stuff that comes with a traditional box of mac n cheese. Or is it cheese food? Never really understood that one :)

Ok Thorny - I will continue. When I tell my son these stories, he always exclaims "you used to be a kid Mom?"

I once ended up with a block of that government cheese that came to my (not poor) mother as part of some trade with a neighbor that was entitled to it but couldn't face it anymore. As I recall, I ended learning how to make macaroni and cheese from scratch with it.

Oh My! Child, just when you had me so absorbed, inside, peeking into the voo doo shop, whispering to you as the funeral procession went by, and exploring insect activity at sunset while munching on velveeta cheese and some stale crackers....you closed the book until a later date. I WASN'T SLEEPY YET!!! Aren't bedtime stories suppose to continue until sleepiness engulfs one's consciousness??? If it is not too much trouble, would you please continue? And DON'T SKIP OVER PAGES, I know how to read,you know, so I'll catch ya and say, "turn it back, that's not fair, and you know it."I sincerely hope you are writing your memoirs for That Beautiful Child of yours....and those to follow him. I think they would appreciate it very much. MORE,please???

Thank you Destry. Just sharing a little bit more about me. Maybe it explains some of my insanity or not.<br />
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Love you buddy!<br />
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Thank you Muneca72 :)

thank you for sharing your story.

Yeah, he is going to be a heartbreaker Moo. He has me wrapped around his little finger - has from day one!

Thank you for the comments everyone. Some of my VERY FAVORITE women giving me compliments makes my heart grow even bigger.<br />
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All I have to do is remember my childhood whenever I am in fear that I am not providing enough for my own child. Heck, give a kid a cardboard box and a stick, and you will find many games and adventures can be created with those two simple things.<br />
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I am blessed beyond belief!

"Since this story is becoming much too long to hold the interest of any reader..." It held mine and I have ADD. I would love to hear more. Everything you talked about here is an opening to another story. You may have been considered poor in the material things, but you had a very rich childhood.

I loved reading this story ,Child. I feel like i just got to know you better ... where you are coming from. Can't wait for more :)

Despite the peanut butter and velveeta cheese, your early years seem happy and creative. And "a lot of love" goes a long way.

It sounds like you were very rich to me. <br />
Your memories are very telling :)