I couldn’t have been more than seven years old when I found out we were “poor”. It had really never occurred to me. Poor people looked sad; I wasn’t sad. Poor people looked thin; I was a healthy girl with a round cherub face. Poor people looked dirty and had torn clothes; my mama always made sure I was squeaky clean and dressed just right. So why had my aunt called me “poor Annie”?
My mom had been very sad when we came to visit my favorite uncle and his family this time. We had a brand new baby that cried a lot, keeping everybody in our one room apartment awake. It didn’t seem unreasonable for mama to be crabby and sad since no one could sleep lately. I knew mom would be letting me stay with my uncle and aunt. I enjoyed spending time with my family and Mama had often left me with relatives “for a little while” so I wasn’t worried when I woke to find her gone.
I climbed from the huge old feather bed and padded down the hallway to the kitchen excitedly. I was hungry and I knew there was something good on the menu. I figured these must have been the richest people I ever knew because they had FOUR DIFFERENT KINDS OF DRY CEREAL on the top of their refrigerator and I could eat some of every kind if I wanted.
As I approached the doorway to the kitchen I stopped; there was a voice I didn’t know talking to my aunt. I don’t know why, but the voice didn’t sound kind and loving like my mama’s, or old and silly like my grandma’s, or even terse and judgmental like my favorite uncle tended to be in the mornings or whenever little people got underfoot. ” I know. She’s off again and has left you with these poor kids.You are a saint for taking them in all the time.” said the voice with words that sounded slimy to my little ears. My aunt’s voice replied, but it didn’t sound like her somehow; “That girl is gonna have to grow up and start taking care of her kids. It isn’t just Annie now, she has another one too. I worry about her but even more about these babie. Poor little Annie has been through so much.”
Suddenly my appetite was gone and my tummy felt sick. I slunk back to the bedroom, feeling as dark and cold as the unlit room appeared and climbed under the covers. I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did, but suddenly, I didn’t feel like me. Suddenly I wasn’t rosy cheeked and carefree. I wasn’t looking forward to helping around the house and being with my grown up auntie and her friends. I felt like a guest for the first time I could remember and I wanted to be anywhere else but with the “family” who cared for me because they had to, not because they wanted to.
I had never remembered feeling unwanted before that day. I didn’t recall having had an unmet need. No matter where I had been before that day I had always felt like I belonged and was loved but after that day I was always very aware of my “place” in society because suddenly, I had become poor.