Before I finish out this month’s blog challenge, I’d like to take a few moments to talk about something to which most of us can relate.
When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my parents and grandparents taught us lessons. Some of those lessons came at the end of a parent’s arm, in the form of a solid hand landing on a padded behind. That was before the days when self-expression was encouraged and corporal punishment was banned as being barbaric and cruel.
I’m just making a point about the differences in society between then and now.
One of the big lessons taught in our household, and in many other homes as well, was that there were places in the world where people went hungry on a daily basis, and that we should be grateful for what was placed before us on the table.
I think everyone between the ages of 45 and 100 has echoing voices in your heads right now that testify to that piece of instruction.
My family was considered slightly poor by the standards of children raised in town, whose folks worked in a shop, for IBM, or the university. My dad was blue-collar, and we lived in the country. Those were big considerations back then, too. I didn’t know any of that until high school.
We didn’t go without food, clothing, shelter, fun, a good car, or the rest of the material things that “mattered.” Most of those living in the country had as many or, in come cases, more of their needs taken care of, than those in town, without our mothers having to work outside the home.
We knew we had it good. It was understood. We learned by example when Mom took the time and effort to feed those who came to the door and asked for food and something to drink. Hobos were common in those days.
Our country culture demanded that we provide sustenance to those in need. It never occurred to her to turn someone away without at least a meal and clean, cold water to drink. Usually she gave them iced tea and whatever was leftover from dinner the evening before.
All of which brings us back to the question of that hunger lesson. I know that there are thousands of children all over the U.S. who go to bed knowing real hunger. I was never one of them, thank God, but I’ve known my share of them over the years.
I got to thinking about that this afternoon, and the admonition drilled into children to this day at the dinner table. Children cannot relate to something they’ve never experienced or seen first-hand. Unless the child who lives in the well-kept house, with all the toys scattered unthinkingly throughout, actually sees the consequences of hunger, it’s impossible to get the lesson across.
I’m tempted to wager that the majority middle-class and upper-lower-class citizens have never known hunger in this country. They haven’t gone a few days without something to eat and decent water to drink. If they had experienced real hunger on a regular basis, I doubt it would not exist in the country for long.
The realization of this difference between my generation and those coming up blazed across my mind. My generation was taught how food got to the table. Kids worked in the garden to help with the family harvest. They felt the soil with their own hands, pulled tomatoes off the vine and ate them while the red beauties still held sun’s kiss. They also knew the price of having a vegetable crop fail to thrive due to drought or too much rain.
We lived closer to the earth in those days and were thankful for that. Buying groceries—staples—in a store was a family outing experience. We saw and appreciated how much money crossed palms across the counter to purchase flour, coffee, tea, baking soda, or laundry detergent.
When neighbors knew that a family was in need, they pitched in to help that family over the rough patch. A neighbor might stop by the house with a dozen fresh eggs, a couple of gallons of milk, and several ears of fresh corn. A discussion would ensue; the neighbor would ask if someone in the household would take these food items in trade for a couple of hours helping to herd sheep or to can jams and jellies for the winter pantry.
Negotiations were done in a way that left everyone’s pride intact and still got a job done and a family fed. Many in today’s city-oriented world don’t have that option or will ever know the joy of helping each other over the trouble spots of life. People fall through the cracks, and some go hungry within shouting distance of a grocery store that tosses vegetables into a dumpster at the end of the day’s business.
I wonder what it would take for us to see all of the hungry in our country. How much of a personal burden would it be to feed all of those people? Would it do any good if those with well-fed children required them to see those who aren’t? Would the lesson stick in the mind a bit better from the experience?
I’d like to think that families could return to those values and personal economies that taught us the cost of another’s hunger and the price we pay for ignoring it. Whether we can rediscover the country culture that required us to care for each other as we would ourselves remains to be seen.
Perhaps we can all take a look at the problems we can help relieve in our pursuit of happiness and come to a family understanding that teaches all its members.