Many families in the Desire Housing Project had large numbers of children. The largest apartment consisted of four bedrooms, one bathroom, one kitchen and one living room. Many families slept two, or more to a room. It was not unheard of for kids to sleep two or three in one bed. That’s just the way it was. There was no teasing or gossiping about people’s sleeping arrangements. It was the norm for us.
Another thing that was normal was borrowing. There was no company supplying loans until the next payday. There were few food banks. There were no, or few food vouchers issued by the government. However, there was the next door neighbor. Or the downstairs neighbor. Or, if necessary, the neighbor across the driveway. Because, inevitably, there would be a shortage. Sometimes, there was too much week left at the end of the money. The groceries purchased from the nearby Schwegmann’s had just run out.
Usually, it was the rice, sugar, flour, or even grits. I guess those were staples in the homes of families with five, or more, children. Those were items that would stretch meals and make mundane meals taste a lot better. Very few families were immune from the inevitable, perpetual shortage of some staple. Even though there were many trips to the corner grocery store in between weekly shopping, sometimes there was just not enough money to purchase food, or credit to be extended to buy them.
Neighbor privilege was a necessity. Grace was always available somewhere. Generosity ruled the hearts of many in our neighborhood, courtyards, and driveways. Some households were more fortunate than others, having two incomes, or maybe staggered pay periods. Whatever the source of the availability, someone had something to share.
Many nights while watching our favorite television program, we were disturbed by a knock on the door by one of the kids from a family needing to complete a meal with something from a neighbor’s pantry. Or there were those days when we wanted to bake a cake and my brother had used the last of the margarine! How could we finish dessert without it? No worries! Someone would save the day! It never failed!
Maybe it’s time to say, ‘ thank you,’ to the neighbors who cared enough about other children to give out of their hearts, their cupboards, and their purses to make sure children did not go hungry. They taught us valuable lessons that stuck with us through a lifetime. It gave us so much reassurance that someone cared about us. That , even though we had to, in the words of some, ‘beg and borrow,’ we did not have to steal to eat.