When I was six, my mother and I lived in a lovely little town on the shores of Lake Ontario, Canada. Port Hope is known for having the best preserved main street in the province of Ontario.
We had come from the northern reaches of British Columbia, and it was a change for me – I had spent two years in the wilds, learning about trapping and tracking animals from the man my mother worked for as a housekeeper, and then I was in a town, with streets and traffic and it was a true culture shock.
The school was okay as I loved to learn. The teacher was nice. No matter that I got lost when leaving the school the first day or so to go home, as I was used to marking my way by following the signs in nature, not streets and buildings.
Our first home in Port Hope was above a bakery on Walton Street. The delicious aromas of baked goods floated up to us early in the morning. At Christmas, the town decorated the streets with lights and beautiful holiday themed ornaments.
But…there was music – Christmas music – for hours throughout the days.
It was quite unbearable after a while.
We were poor. My mother was lame – one leg shorter than the other, and I came to her late in life. By then, she could no longer support us by working, and we lived on the small income provided by welfare.
Christmas would have been a very sad time for us except that the local organizations provided food hampers and Christmas gifts for those in need.
Can I tell you how this mattered to a six year old child?
It made our Christmas shine and the memories I have, of the knock on the door and those volunteers bringing in a box of food and some colourful wrapped presents is something that I still treasure, sixty years later.
So – my thoughts are these. If you can, give. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t necessarily have to be dollars. You can give of your time and your good thoughts.
Because, I can tell you, that as a child on welfare, I sensed even then, the stigma of my not being ”deserving” or ”good enough” of being ”a freeloader” of being ”lazy”.
Not true. Children do not choose to be poor. Mothers do not choose to live in poverty, afraid that an abusive partner will somehow find them. They do not choose to be physically unfit to work.
Give then, of your means or of your understanding, for the next poor or homeless person you see. Please know that these situations are not by choice.
As we enter this Christmas season may you and yours have enough – enough food, enough warmth and shelter, enough love and caring – to get you through this time, when things are so uncertain.
We need each other.
That is what makes us human. What makes us able to carry on, no matter what.
And – thank you to that fraternal organization in Port Hope, in 1959, that gave my mother and me a wonderful Christmas and a special memory.
I wanted to find illustrations for this post, but I couldn’t. I searched for ”poverty” and ”childhood” and so on, but nothing seemed right. I guess there isn’t a ”just right” graphic that I can share to show the life I knew.