Blog Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day 2008, the sponsored topic is Poverty. As I thought about poverty, I felt inadequate to write about the subject. I’ve truly lived a rich life-not in monetary ways-but in all the ways that count.

My mind was drawn back to the stories I’ve heard from my elders-days with one pair of shoes per year, not much food and sharing beds for warmth against cold nights-hard times that drew mountain families closer together for survival.

Pap's school picture

Pap was born in 1937, I asked him to compare the poverty of his childhood with today.

During Pap’s childhood there wasn’t much money. He said his family might get a hold of cash once or twice a year when they sold a calf-usually $40 to $60. The rest of the year, no cash was to be had. Pap’s parents were farmers, so even though there was a shortage of cash there always seemed to be enough to eat. They used what they had and made sure nothing was wasted. There were other folks who didn’t have access to crops, who ate small birds like blue jays, jorees, and brown thrashers to make it through.

Appalachia Homeplace

Directly related to the minimal cash flow-banks didn’t lend money often or easily. Pap recalled as an enlisted Marine he tried to get a loan for $150 to buy a car. The bank wouldn’t even talk to him-seems an enlisted man was a risk in those days.

Pap also recalled the hardship newlyweds faced in finding a place of their own. In most cases Pap said, unless they had family to live with or rent from, it was almost impossible to afford a place to live.

After being discharged from the Marines Pap lived in Ohio for a few years-working for a building contractor. When he and Granny were first married he figured he could build a house for about $1,100. Pap was surprised and disappointed when he visited the area banks requesting a loan-he said they literally laughed him out the door. A stark contrast from today’s bank practices, which include loaning to folks who can’t actually make the payments.

Pap said he’d spent his life being poor-but overall he never wanted for much-and was blessed with an abundance.

The Deer Hunter gets on to me for telling the girls we can’t afford some things because we’re poor. He says-“We are not poor, we have more than most”-I’m thankful he’s right.



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  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    October 18, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    We never had much, but we were together and never hungry as our Mom could make a meal out of anything. We all slept on mattresses on our parents bedroom floor as they only had one fan to keep us cool.
    We spent a lot of our young lives at the Mission Bible School. Every year, they would take the children who attended all year to Summer Camp for free. We would be given bible verses at evening services to memorize, and the next day you would have to repeat the verse to be allowed into the pool to show you were learning.
    I’ll never forget those days or the Sisters and Brothers who taught us about God’s love. Those are some of my best memories. xxoo

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 18, 2008 at 9:41 am

    My grandmother died in 1967 at the age of 70. When we cleaned her house there were, at least, 1000 jars of canned food in her in her basement. She also had a very large freezer full to the top of home frozen fruits, vegetables and meat also a rented freezer locker in a near by town full of home frozen food.
    It was only my grandmother and grandfather to feed but you see she lived through the depression. She lived through a time with not enough to eat and even at the age of 70 she remembered and didn’t want herself or her family to every have to live without enough to eat!
    I’ve never in my life been without food to eat!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks again for such a wonderful post. My grandparents grew up much like your dad. So, I have heard many similiar stories. With our recent financial crisis my Grannie Lucille has been talking much more of her upbringing during the depression. It can really make you thankful for all that you have.
    *Love that picture of Pap.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    My parents grew up in the same era as Pap. My mom was also born in 1937 and she told me many stories of how they thought an orange in their stocking at Christmas meant that they were so rich. That was the only time in the entire year that they could experience an orange. Of course the usual one pair of shoes (which were either worn out or outgrown by the end of the year), no cars, working in crop fields to help their parents and such was common. Wow! Even though I grew up without much as well it was nowhere near what my parents experienced. I am blessed.

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    October 17, 2008 at 3:06 am

    Tipper, your Pap was rich indeed! True poverty is poverty of spirit and soul, (and has nothing to do with $$) and your family wasn’t/isn’t lacking in that area!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 12:49 am

    I love hearing your pap’s stories, Tipper! 🙂
    My mom, born in ’34, also grew up in a family with no cash, but always plenty to eat, for they always gardened. My Nanny put up (canned) from the summer bounty so they ate good all year long. She even canned meat when they butchered a cow. Each fall when they butchered a hog, they’d make hog head cheese and pork rinds (possibly called something different than that), along with the bacon, ham, and other meat cuts.
    My grandpa took the family from the dust bowls of Oklahoma to California where they worked picking whatever they could, living in migrant camps. After about a year, Grandpa had his fill of it and took the family back to Oklahoma. All his siblings and their families stayed out there, and their descendants all still live there.
    I know my grandparents were hard workers. They’d work the fields all day while leaving my mom at home to care for the younger children, and she was just a child herself. CPS wouldn’t allow such today, but back then, families did what they had to do to survive. My mom said she never really felt poor, as everyone they knew was in the same boat.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Your dad grew up similarly to my dad, and just a few years ahead of him. The house my dad lived in the longest is still standing. It’s a one-room shanty with an attic where 5 kids slept and snow came in through the cracks in the winter. It’s like stuff we read about, but can’t really imagine. The girls shared shoes with their mom. They couldn’t even afford one pair each a year. They would trade weeks of going to church. I guess to school they could get buy without shoes part of the year and with old ones with holes the rest of the year. My grandparents never owned a car.
    I grew up very poor, but I can’t even understand that kind of poor. (I was probably closer to it than I realized.)
    It’s a true job to teach our kids that our wealth isn’t in our things in today’s world.

  • Reply
    Dennis Price
    October 16, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    I guess poverty is relative to how much your closest neighbors have. When I was a kid, I thought we were doing as well as anyone I knew. Later when I returned to my childhood neighborhood I was surprised how small the houses looked. I’ve never had to have much to make me happy. I know much of that attitude was driven home by the teaching of my parents who lived through the depression. Like Pap they were farm people and always had plenty to eat. Dad told me once they ate black bird pie. I asked him how they tasted and he told me they were pretty boney. Pappy

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    October 16, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    My mom and dad married in 1930 and they first shared a home in Okla. City with 2 other young couples in order to make ends meet. The stories were about what they shared, not what they lacked. My oldest brother was born in 1931, and at Christmas in 1932 mom bought a teddy bear at the store for 19 cents. Dad wanted her to take it back but mom put her foot down and said it would be the 1st Christmas he might remember and she wanted something from Santa for him. That was probably this first time they even discussed money.
    I sure don’t have money now, but I’m rich with friends and memories.
    I’m going to check out Blog Action Day now. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
    Oh, and congrats to Becky, too. She’s the one that steered me your way.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Always so nice…thank you! 🙂

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 9:40 am

    A timely subject considering the state of the nation. It’s what makes us stronger though isn’t it?

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 9:36 am

    My parents and grandparents had very similar upbringings…simpler times that were sometimes hard, but they always got by. I think that the “excesses” of today can make us lose sight of what’s really needed. I’m glad I have their stories to remind me of what really matters. Thanks for sharing your story to remind me as well.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    October 16, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Tipper: I think that a lot of the things we have today take away from what we really need. You do have a rich life and it shows in what you write.
    I would like to say on your site that anyone who likes old time gospel music should consider buying one of the Wilson brothers CD’s. Pap and his brother do a great job of sharing their love of the music they share. I thank you again for the gift of Pap’s music.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 4:55 am

    Thanks for this glimpse of the past and the struggles folks faced back then. I am thinking about this story and how it was for a young couple to get by and juxtaposing the image with engaged couples who run through department stores with laser scanners building their trousseaux. For all the stuff available these days, we still need very little.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 2:09 am

    What a timely subject! Wealth is such a relative thing. A little with peace and joy is real wealth. “Stuff” and things weigh one down, complicate life.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 2:04 am

    Too bad the practices of NOT giving credit have gone by the wayside. Our country wouldn’t been in the state it is now if that were so. I grew up very poor monetarily, but we lived on a farm and always had food to eat – fresh veggies in the summer, venison, rabbit, eggs and milk. We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, wealthy now, but like you have more than so many others. Great post, Tipper!

  • Reply
    City Mouse/Country House
    October 15, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    What a wonderful post. Really interesting history and a very timely comparison. And honestly, I think it makes us feel a little more secure about our situations nowadays. PS – I really do still only buy one pair of shoes a year, LOL!

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    October 15, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    My grandmother grew up on a small farm in rural Alabama. She said she never really knew anything about the Depression other than every now and again someone would come by and her momma would feed them a meal. They grew what they needed and combined what they had with family members that lived nearby. I think of that as heaven on earth. Living in the city we are all so detached.

  • Reply
    noble pig
    October 15, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    The whole blog community knew about this event except for me!

  • Reply
    October 15, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    We are truly blessed with all we have! Sometimes it’s hard to remember when there is something we want and aren’t able to. I always try to remember, there are many people who have much less than I.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I have been fortunate enough to have lived in some foreign countries. I actually grew up in Saudia Arabia. When you compare the poverty of many foreign nations to ours you quickly realize how spoiled and materialistic we Americans are. I can gladly say that I have NEVER been poor. I have always had some type of meal, maybe not til I was full but I was fed, I have always been clothed, not in the latest styles but clean and wearable, and I have always had a roof over my head, sometimes it was an UGLY roof but a roof nontheless. I’ve been trying to teach my boys that its not the “things” in life that make you rich, but your family and friends.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I’m 59, and grew up thinking we were rich but my dad was stingy. Actually, we were just sharecroppers making it from year to year, and usually selling a couple of hogs to buy Christmas. But like your pap, we were never hungry, and we always had clothes to wear…my mother made many of my dresses and my brother’s shirts rom flour sacks. And we usually had two pair of shoes a year, whether we needed them or not.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    October 15, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    My mother was born in 1926, and they always had enough to eat. They owned a little spot of land, enough for a good garden, and a tiny little 4-room house. But just BARELY enough money to get by…I’ve seen a little brown notebook where my grandfather would charge items at the neighborhood store/general mercantile. Salt, oil for lamps, very basic things. My grandparents never never accumulated any money, material things, etc., but they had a stable, stable faith. They had riches beyond measure. I miss them still so very much.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Tipper, you give a great reminder to how fortunate we all are. You are obviously wealthy with love from a beautiful family with a rich heritage and background. Thank you for always sharing such wonderful stories.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    I’ve always thought Appalachia was the best place to be “poor.” I tell my husband we can move back there if we hit another depression. At least there people can grow their own food, put it away for the winter, and keep themselves warm with a fire. Plus, shoes aren’t as much of a necessity in the mountains! If anyone is ready for an economic or energy crisis, it is the people of Appalachia.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    There is a wonderful flash animation called The Miniature Earth that really brings the whole poverty issue home to those of us who have been blessed with all that we need and more. You can view it at the following link: It is one of the most powerful pieces I have ever seen.

  • Reply
    Terry Thornton
    October 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Your father is two years older than I — and we share much of the same history/heritage you write about. Thanks for these memories.
    The last time I looked today at the statistics coming from the folks at BLOG ACTION DAY 2008, more than 11,690 sites have participated so far with an estimated audience of more than 12,500,000 readers! I’m so glad we both are participating in this action today.

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