A First Reflection: Past Meets Present

Nancy Coleman


During my early elementary school days it was a rare sight to see me at home after school. Normally, I could be found at a babysitter’s house, being watched with my sister until our mother got off of work. Mom worked full-time stocking the shelves in Publix, while dad worked as a mechanic at Hertz Rent-a-Car. My father threatened me with the idea of poverty, with the idea of living check to check, with never being able to see my family because I had to work all day to keep the bills paid. He wanted my sister and me to lead better lives, and he knew that staying in school and going to college was the key to that path.

However, those years preceded the truly difficult times my family would face.  In 2006 my father suffered a spinal cord injury at his job. Though he could still walk, the doctors said he was one wrong twist away from becoming wheelchair ridden. He stayed home, and he received a disability check each month. It was less money than before, but it was something. My mother was still going strong at Publix, actually on her way to becoming assistant manager of the Deli. But once again, we were hit with misfortune; out of nowhere, my mother had a brain aneurysm. We count our blessings that she survived, but with her condition came an inability to process information quickly enough to effectively work at any job. She retired from Publix and began receiving disability payments.

This past year was the worst. At the end of each month we never had enough money. We ran out of food, gas, soap, toilet paper, everything. My mother, an extremely resourceful woman, sought out places that helped people in need. After a while, she had a routine for going to churches to collect essentials. We always had bread, spaghetti, canned green beans, and an assortment of canned beans. Something I found funny was the fact that we were more likely to end up with a cake than fresh fruits and vegetables, one aspect of not having enough money I never really got over. Aside from that, it was always interesting to see the various methods used to apportion food and goods. Lots of times we had to wait in line at least an hour early or risk not getting any food. One particular church gave out better food to those who arrived earlier, but gaining an early spot in “line” meant sitting in on a 9:00 am sermon until the distribution started an hour later.

Despite all of the struggles my family faced, I know there are people in more dire circumstances: the sick without health insurance, those on the street with no home, the hungry who don’t know where their next meal will come from. My family is not even below the poverty line, yet we suffer these pitfalls monthly. To be below the line must be insufferable. I imagine something tenfold the pain we go through. And yes, there is pain. There is depression and hopelessness. There is a consuming feeling of deficiency because “making it out” seems impossible. All my parents can do is sit and watch their world fall apart as bills become increasingly more difficult to pay.

Uncontrollable and unfortunate pivotal events lead to poverty. Losing a job, a sudden illness, perhaps even being born into a low-income household. People do not choose to be poor. Sure some may lead simple lifestyles parallel to the conditions of those impoverished, but the key is that they choose to live this way. They have options, the poor do not.

If it were not for many of the programs currently in existence to combat poverty, I am sure my family would have fallen apart. I believe this is the case in many households.  Finally, we should be aware of criticism. Arguments arise saying that people must work to earn their living. Truly, my father would like nothing more than to work. He worked all of his life, and he took pride in every job he completed.  I, like my father, am a proponent of fairness. I simply want people to be given equal and fair chances. Being in poverty should not warrant unfair treatment.

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