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Memories of Poor Friends In My Distant Past




When I was a young kid, I remember being at my neighbor’s house and experiencing a lifestyle that was very different from where I lived.  I didn’t realize that they were poor at the time though.  I’m going to describe the setting and lifestyle of this charming couple from my memories.

One of the most vivid things that I remember wad that their heating system was a coal furnace in the basement (which had a dirt floor).  It was kind of hard to breath in the house, it has a distinct smell that I will never quite forget.  One time, I remember riding in a pickup truck to pick up some coal.  The coal was literally poured into the back of the truck through a metallic chute of some sort, or so I believe.

Next my neighbor drove the coal home and we feed the coal through another chute that open down to his basement.  He had a pile of coal in his basement in some kind of large bin.  I helped shovel for a little bit, but I was so young that I didn’t last long… so I went home.

Another thing I remember is Jesus paintings and pictures and bible quotes throughout the house.  This family was minimalist before the term became popular… although not by choice.  I remember a couple of mini-statues of Jesus throughout the house too, along with other religious symbols.

The other things that I remember in the house was a very small TV, a second hand small couch and a non-matching chair, a beat up dinette set (used of course), and a bed that was small and appeared lumpy.  In their 2 bedroom house, they had a small lumpy bed in the guest/storage/sewing all-in-one room.  The other bedroom was the one that they slept in.  I never went into that room.  The total size of their house was less than 1/2 the size of my current house.

So what did they do for entertainment?

Mostly free stuff, they had a garden where they grew their own food and they also socialized with family and friends.  I remember that church was a very important function in their life.  The wife went two or three times a week, mostly riding with other women since I don’t believe she had a car.  The husband mainly watched TV while chewing tobacco.  Most (if not all) of their cloths were either made by the wife or bought second-hand.

You might think that they were miserable, but actually they seems fairly happy, especially the wife.  I only live in that neighborhood for a few years, so I’m not sure how they did as they aged.  I think not having money in your later years would mean it would be hard to get decent health care.  So their retirement might have been rough.

At the time I didn’t realize how hard they had it financially, but as an adult, I now realize that they were quite poor.  The husband had injured his back and was on some form of disability, while the wife didn’t work.  They had a frugal lifestyle so they were able to get by though.

They weren’t rich or even middle class, but they were charming in their own way.

Being wealthy doesn’t make you a better person, but it does make life easier.


18 Responses to Memories of Poor Friends In My Distant Past

  1. My grandparents had the chute for the coal heading down into the basement but by the time I was old enough to remember, they had a newer oil furnace. I bet it would have been pretty messy. I remember my grandma telling all sorts of stories about the Great Depression. She just turned 95 a few months ago.

    • wow 95, that’s awesome!

      We never think about it, but I guess we sometimes have to change the energy source for our homes sometimes! What a drastic change.

  2. My mom’s twin sister still has this type of furnace. They got gas heat installed and all it took was one heating bill for her to go back to coal. Getting a load of coal is almost like insuring your future self from freezing. It’s almost like a savings policy. You have extra money, you go buy some extra coal.

    • I wouldn’t even know where to buy coal these days… I wonder if the cheap cost of coal is why many of the chinese population still use it as a primary heating source? I also wonder if the rest of Poland uses coal much?

  3. Minimalists are actually much more content with life than hoarders – just my personal observation.

    Coal heating system sounds like a great idea! We are a coal-rich country. I wonder why this was phased out. Pollution or safety concerns?

    • Air quality! I remember the house smelling weird! It’s cheap but dirty…

      I think a decent number of the electric producing companies use coal to make electricity though.

    • yeah, I wonder how long it takes to go through a coal rock? or brick?

      It must be very slow burning. What a pain it must be to constantly feel the furnace manually… Good point on that!

  4. I remember some people in similar circumstances. I remember them as happy people and the kids too. They may not have much, but they made due. Maybe it is perspective, they were satisfied with less.

    • Good friends help the happiness equation, that’s for sure.

      The people I mention above were happy people and I enjoyed going over and checking out the corn and string beans growing in their garden.

  5. Money does lead to an easier life…in some ways. But, I do wonder about them now and if they have decent health insurance. Medicare certainly doesn’t cover and most need supplemental. They sounded like nice people.

    • I knew them when they I was very young. In fact, I didn’t even know their last name, but my mom and I would stop in for visits.

      While I was still young, my mom moved hours away, so we never saw them after that.

      Sweet people though…

  6. Great imagery. I can picture the little home quite clearly. Your notes about the family being devout Christians and living a simply, happy life is something I was thinking about today actually…do religious people tend to be happier than atheists because their faith holds them up and teaches them to love and let go of material things?

    • Good question. I think there definitely is a social benefit of being religious and there is even a support system.

      Their particular lifestyle, while happy, would bore me to tears. Still they were sweet people though, and I wish them the best.

  7. I always marvel at these families who live happy even as they are disconnected from the consumerism that plagues our society. They might not have had a choice but they sure did bring out the best of the situation.