Monday, October 1, 2012

What my parents taught me about being poor

I was poor once ... for four years. (grade one through four, for me) Not poor by third world standards, but definitely poor by American standards.

me in first grade

My parents put their home (my dad built) on the market, packed up our family of six and moved to Canada to go to school. But the house did not sell ... so things were slim pickins.

How poor were we?

          *we put our car on blocks and walked

           *in "those days" we wore dresses to 
             school and my sisters and I each
             had two dresses

          *We ate the same food all the time

            (Breakfast was hot cereal and cornflakes
            on Sunday. Lunch was goulash style 
            casseroles. Dinner was toast, peanut
            butter and canned fruit.)

          *Once a week my mom baked a cake in a
            9x13 pan ~ my dad used a ruler and 
            marked off tiny slivers (on Christmas Day our
                  treat was potato chips and pickles) 

          *We rented a small three room home.
            (Dad and mom had a room, my sisters and I had a triple
                  bunk in another small room, and my brother slept on the
                  couch in the combined living room/kitchen. The bathrooms
                  were outside and shared with other families.)
          *On Christmas Day, we got a free tree
            when the lot closed and dad made 
            really cool ornaments with glitter and
            construction paper

We were poor. Of course, we had clean water, safe
and warm housing, but we were poor

So, what did I learn from my parents about being poor?

Nothing ... absolutely nothing. Why? Because, we kids did not know that we were poor. We simply did not know. 

Our home was full of ~

simple routines
outdoor play
library books
Bible stories
and fun 

You know, when you do not know that you are poor, you think your dad made your Christmas decorations out of construction paper and glitter, because he was creative and clever. (which, by the way, he was) 

My parents were intentional about fully embracing
a simple and fun lifestyle ... I am so glad they did!

ps. When we grew up, we learned that dad and mom had popcorn and licorice every weekend, after we went to bed. :)
 Linking tonight to Jen and the Soli sisters.    


  1. Your being poor sounded like a good time--a time for enjoying what was/is important. I still enjoy watching reruns of The Walton's and Little House on the Prairie. I love how they enjoy the simplest of things and each other. I smiled at seeing your photo. I believe I could have picked you out of a line-up.


  2. You had all the things money couldn't buy, Glenda. It sounds like your life was very rich indeed! I love this post...thanks for sharing your memories!


  3. Your post is such a reminder that our children's attitudes are determined by our attitudes! Your parents didn't treat their lack of material things as a reason to overlook the really important parts of their family! I loved reading this!

  4. LOVE this post Glenda. You are always a shining example of living a beautiful life no matter what.

  5. This touched me so much. My parents went through some very lean years, too (they often tell the story of going to the cupboard and only finding a box of oatmeal and a can of peaches, so that was dinner!), but they never complained, and I never knew.

  6. Thanks for the great lesson to appreciate the simple things in life. I love that having less can also mean having more - that material things aren't the most important things on this earth.
    Great post!

  7. Interesting post, thank you for sharing. We were never really poor, but we certainly had to watch the pennies and my mum would make 4 ozs of Cooked Meat stretch over lots of bread for sandwiches.

  8. I love this post for so many reasons. I have found in our little family that our worst times are the times that taught us to love and enjoy life and each other the most. It's amazing how I can look back a couple of years at times that I thought would break me in half and feel joy. That good feeling has replaced the terrible memories and fears we faced at that time because we drew closer together, loved each other more, and made more of an effort to enjoy the beauties of life. Little children learn amazing lessons in times of adversity just like adults do and I think adults often forget that or hope to keep children from having hard things happen to them. By seeing how we deal with them, they learn that they too can overcome adversity. It's easy to hate the adversity in the moment, but we are often grateful for it after the fact.

  9. Loved you thoughts about living with less. We didn't have much either while growing up. I began to realize it more when I was able to comprehend that other kids at my school got more than 1 gift for Christmas. Lots more. I cam remember feeling a bit sad. But, I wouldn't trade my family experience for anything in the world. We grew up loved and valued.....and we knew it =)

  10. My mum looks back on her 'poor' days as some of the happiest times of her life. I never understood that until we went through a rough patch about 5 years ago when not much was coming in, and, although it was hard, we were all actually really happy. So bizarre!


  11. What a beautiful post and thank you for sharing your story!

  12. Glenda, I love this :) We downsized (or perhaps "right-sized") our expenses because we are down to one income for now. But in doing so, we've experienced a lot of different things. We aren't poor, for sure, but having less has made us have to make decisions about what's important, what we want to splurge on, and what makes sense. We take less for granted. Our 2 year old doesn't know a thing about what's happened, and that's just fine.

  13. Glenda
    I love this post and totally understand it. My parents always taught me to live below my means so that when the means aren't there, I can do it... currently doing "it" while in-between jobs (code phrase for "unemployed").
    By the way - I think it's time your write your memoirs. It would be a great read and would sell like hotcakes!!
    xxoo donna.

  14. Glenda, I enjoyed reading this post. I wish modern day parents would realize that kids just want to feel loved. Your parents knew what was important, and isn't it funny to know that they needed to treat themselves occasionally too!

  15. Glenda I loved this! So much so that I shared it on my fb wall. Reading it made me realize something that's bugged me off and on for most of my adult life. I grew up knowing I was poor! Because my mother told me so. Often. She complained about everything. Nothing was ever good enough for her.I don't understand her point of view, because she had never really been well-to-do. It was all in the way she viewed life I suppose. The result? For a lot of years I was prone to spending money I didn't have on things I didn't need to impress people who didn't care. Finally, when God took the controls, I learned to say, "I am rich in Him...contented with what I have. The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. Thanks for the additional insight.
    Hugs, E

  16. Love it - I strive for simplicity and even pray for just enough, as I want to stay humbled and simple minded as much as I can!

  17. Glenda--you've got me ruminating about writing my own 'we were poor' post about my 4 brothers and sisters and I back in the 50's.......and I would concur. We were clueless and happy. We didn't know Jesus, but we had great neighbors and friends everywhere. God was so good to look out for us.
    This made me smile.........what a wonderful lesson.

  18. That is so beautifully said! Your home was *full* of everything that mattered most!

  19. I LOVE this, Glenda. Every thing about it - the story, the darling picture, and the great last line - your folks sneaking a little extra fun in after you kids were asleep. I know you didn't have much money for a while there, Glenda, but you were FAR from poor. GREAT story and story-telling.

  20. My childhood was similar in that I never realized we were poor. My dad was a teacher and my mom worked the overnight shift at a factory so she could be home during the day with the 7 of us: 3 girls in one room, 4 boys in the other. I am so grateful for the lack at that time of tv and peer pressure to dress cool and have the latest gadgets!
    My folks, too had occasional treats after we were in bed, but it was Pepperidge Farm raspberry turnovers.
    Thanks for the happy trip down memory lane!

  21. Glenda, what a sweet, sweet testimony to your parents. I love this. My dad died when I was 9 and my mom raised 6 of us on her own. We didn't have much extra but like you we never felt a lack.

  22. You learned the greatest gift: learning to be content with what you have...your parents understood love and that and passed it to you. How awesome. Your family sounds wonderful. Thank you for your kind comment on my grace to be me post. I have been blessed to stumble upon your blog and get glimpses of who you are and what God puts on your heart. By the way, I was poor at different periods in my life by American standards as well, I did homework by candlelight, ate peanut butter for a snack, took a bath in cold water (clean though) and slept on just a mattress with no other furniture just to love my mom and be with her after my parents divorced...and I would never change how that impacted my mom and me! LOVE this post!

  23. I love this, too. I wonder about kids these days -- do they know that they are poor? Do they see all that they could have on TV?

    I think, though, your story is a testament to what we can have when we live intentionally - loving each other and filling each other up. Something that nothing material in the world can do.

  24. Oh my... licorice? Dutch licorice? I can see them sitting there... silently chewing, giggling.

  25. Our pastor's wife said she didn't know she was poor until she went to college and saw the other girl's closets. I wish I could have seen your parents sneak their date-night food. I think that's precious.

  26. Glenda you had phenomenal and very wise parents when growing up.
    I was the eldest of eight children and often we did not have much however we always had food on the table, shelter and love!

    I am having an amazing Giveaway of Plush Pumpkins from Love Feast!
    Art by Karena

  27. Glenda, this is the sweetest post! Poor, but rich in the most important things.

  28. Glenda....I've always hated to live here in America and say that my family was ever poor, but when I was little we really lived on very, very little.

    We lived in a green house that had three TINY had one bathroom and a small kitchen and living room that were combined. It was probably 1,000 sf. My mom kept it very clean, and everything we had we took good care of, so the house seemed so nice to me. When I look back at pictures, I realize that my parents really struggled, but like your family, my brother and I never really knew it.

    I didn't have a closet full of clothes and we had just enough toys to play with all of them. In other words, there wasn't a play room full of junk that never got touched. :)

    My mom cooked a home cooked meal every single night, and we ate leftovers until they were completely gone. My mom also baked something delicious once or twice a week, and those were our treats. There wasn't a pantry full of little debbie cakes and potato chips!

    I loved this post....simple is good.

  29. I love this post! Your family was rich in the truly important things, and you were blessed with wonderful parents. Thank you for sharing your story.

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. I'll try again. Great story and thanks for sharing it.

  32. Love this Glenda! Sounds like you had a wonderful family life back in the 'poor' days (I'm sure you do now as well!). Thanks for reminding us that it's not about the things you have or don't have, but rather what you make of it. A good attitude goes a long way! Reminds me of 1 Thess. 5:18, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." God bless!

  33. Oh Glenda, so glad you ended your post as you did! I was in my 30's before I realized our family was poor. We had food, shelter, clothing and LOVE...what more did we need? Yet, when I took a "friend" to visit my family in WV, she turned up her pert nose at the "poverty". She was nice about it but, looking back, I could see her distress.
    So sad. She'll never know what it means to be truly happy, I don't believe. She thought things made one happy.

  34. this is just priceless!
    and true..not knowing you were poor because of all of
    the love in the home...and Jesus
    the best part is the end...licorice and popcorn
    I sometimes hide a treat so the kids don't eat it;)

  35. rich in love...worth more than $.
    Our book club read The Glass Castle...your post reminded me of that book.

  36. GLenda
    Loved this for so many reasons but most of all a reminder of the value of family. SO happy that you blessed us with this beautiful life lesson


  37. I grew up thinking we were the richest people in the world! Only to learn later that we weren't. But, like your family, we were rich in things money can't buy! Thank you for sharing this today.

  38. We also had poor years,
    although there was always
    plenty to eat. We had one
    car and once a week Mom
    drove Dad to work so she
    could have the car to do her
    errands. She sewed a lot of
    our clothes. But as you say,
    we were happy and well cared
    for and rich in the things
    that really mattered. I had
    a stay at home mom and always
    felt very blessed by that!

    Had to laugh at your folk's
    secret indulgences.....they
    would be mine, too!!

    xo Suzanne

  39. Amen...for the last decade our family is under the title of "poor" according to American standards and yet I don't feel my kids have ever felt poor. What has it taught to focus on what is important and forget the American standard as the standard to live by

    I think we all could learn a lot from your parents..what a wonderful heritage


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