There are few songs written or sung that bring tears to my eyes every time I hear them. The Star Spangled Banner. Isreal Kamakoele's version of "Over the Rainbow" (I'm tearing up just thinking of that one)Dolly Pardon's "Coat of Many Colors"
I have never been homeless. I have never starved. But I have been poor with little to nothing in the cabinets and instead of a couch, lawn chairs and pillows on the floor.
We saw it as a grand adventure, those pillows and lawn chairs, who needs a couch, anyway?
Somehow we made it and I didn't really know just how broke we were until they discussed the poverty line in class. I knew what my mom made, I knew what our rent was. I think there was $5 difference between her salary and the cost to live in that two bedroom apartment slated for demolition when the freeway went through. I loved it there for reasons I will have to go through another time because this is so not about the apartment.
My mom, she worked. And she took some classes. She cleaned house for a friend of hers to supplement her income. We ate a lot of top ramen. I learned to cook chicken and rice. We always had Magic Stars-the generic version of Lucky Charms and powdered donuts. Daddy's child support checks were sporatic. Sometimes, Nana would bring us food. The kind of treats that it felt like other people got to have. Capri Suns and pudding cups.
When we moved to this place, this new city (And gods, after living in the middle of nowhere, 50,000 people sure did feel like big city) I started a new school and joined the choir.
I loved to sing. Still do when you can convince me to spit out a note. And the choir dress they chose looked like something a Disney Princess would wear. Long, with velvet and taffeta. Puffy sleeves. Princess Neckline and waist. Long. Too long.
I'm sure I panicked. It's what 15 year olds do. And I'm sure my mom told me we would figure it out. I didn't know anything about hemming. I'm sure i figured that anything that was done would have to be done by me; I've always assumed I would have to do everything for myself by myself. (And I have been proven wrong about that more times than I can count) I'm not even sure we took the sewing machine when we left. I barely knew how to use it though. I got up one morning, to find my dress laid out on a chair hemmed up to the perfect length with the tiniest stitches you ever saw. One of my mother's many talents, apparently. I always forget that part of her story when she made her own clothes because when she was growing up, there wasn't money to buy them. She stayed up late after class, after we all were in bed, and made sure my dress was perfect for me.
I wore that gown for 3 years. We won choir competitions. We put on concerts. By senior year, the hem was tearing but I just stapled it back up. I grew less girly and stopped wearing high heels under it and started wearing jeans and my knee high boots (my sister hated those boots.) I felt like I was getting away with something.
When it came time to get rid of my dress, it wasn't the memory of all those concerts, fun times, and trips to Denny's, it was the work my mom put into it so that I could have something nice and right that made me hesitate.
But the velvet was crushed from performances in the hot sun. The hem was worn and torn. I knew that I would only be keeping it for the memory and it made more sense to give it away.
Instead I listen to Dolly sing about her Coat of Many Colors her mama made for her and I think of the gown my Momi fixed for me. And I remember not just how loved I felt upon seeing my dress that morning but also the joy of standing next to my mom watching Dolly sing it live knowing it meant something a little more special, just for me.
Edit: I added the picture, which I knew I had but couldn't find last night. RebTurtle made a comment today that he never knew I was poor. Well of course not. I didn't think of myself that way. And most people don't announce those things their first year at a new school. That first year was the hardest, it got way better after that as my mom got on her feet. Things were still tight but there was always food in the cabinets. I had a lot of time to get used to the other way, even before we left there was very little money. But those are stories for private conversations, not for blogging.