It's the cheese I remember - a congealed, yellowy-orange block in non-descript paper, with, I think, blue writing. You needed the might of Solomon to cut through it, it was so thick. All I could manage were chunks - never firm slices.
No, the slices - they were for people who could afford the good stuff. Our cheese came from the food stamp program - the government-run agency for poor families who couldn't afford to feed themselves without help.
For a short time, we were one of those families. Not because my parents were lazy or waiting around for some kind of handout, by any stretch. Rest assured, Bettye and Jimmy were hard workers. They just couldn't find any work. At the time, jobs were scarce in Long Island, N.Y., the place my parents moved after spending five years raising my brother and me in a small south New Jersey town where they had few friends and even less familial support. They thought things would be better back in Long Island; there were factory jobs there, and they had friends there, too, and my mom missed her church - needed to be closer to her lifeline. Her people.
But her people couldn't find work for her. Or for my Dad. And when their money got low, my Dad got desperate - got back his old job in New Jersey and commuted back and forth from BayShore, N.Y., to Trenton so that he'd have some cash coming in. It was a decision that nearly broke us; Daddy would leave us on Sunday night, stay in New Jersey until after work on Friday, spend two days with us, and then head back to work - a grueling schedule that was all-at-once scary (for us, seeing as the man of our new home wasn't there to protect us) and lonely (for him, seeing as he had to be without us and alone for days on end, for months and months).
And then, the factory closed. And after all of that commuting, after all of that loneliness, after all of that searching for something better, after all of that holding on, our family's only source of income was… gone. And all of a sudden, it was be proud and starve, or suck up your pride and let your babies eat.
My parents chose to let us eat.
To read the rest of my Parenting.com post on Families Making a Way Out of No Way, click HERE.