My Mother Taught Me Generosity Even Though We Were Poor
The author recounts the day her mother taught her the meaning of generosity by sacrificing their family’s needs to make a stranger’s day just a little bit better.
I grew up in the ‘80s, when bangs were big and shoulder pads were plentiful. My parents fought to make a living after a huge economic recession in the early years of my life. I remember the feeling of fear and uncertainty as my dad searched for work.
He worked as a roofer in a rather remote area of the Texas Hill Country. Roofing in the August heat in Texas has got to be one of the worst jobs on the planet, and my dad sacrificed sleep and sanity in an attempt to keep us fed. Eventually, he transitioned to building whole houses, and the stress level just went up as he tried to hold it all together while learning the business the hard way.
At the time, the custom home business wasn’t booming. People were struggling financially, as the country climbed out of the hold of the recession. My father interviewed for different jobs in other states that might provide more security, but nothing panned out. Instead, he and my mom carried on fighting for work, trying to make ends meet and raising three kids. It was feast or famine. Some months we had money, and others we had next to none.
My mom grew up in Scotland, and was by nature very frugal. I know most people who grew up in this time remember plastic tubs being reused for all manner of leftovers. My mom took it up a notch, also washing out Ziploc bags, bread bags and anything else she thought could be put to use. She didn’t buy herself anything—I’m fairly sure she wore the same clothes for the first 15 years of my life, and I never knew her to go shopping for fun.
My Parents Made Growing up Poor Easier for Us
Looking back now, I realize how hard my parents worked, not only to keep my brothers and I fed and clothed, but also to keep us free from their grown-up worries. We played hard, making use of every inch of the property we lived on, finding adventures as we explored the forest next to us.
As kids, we weren’t conscious of how much money we had, but we did understand how we were doing based on my parents’ stress level and where we shopped. Most weeks, we strolled down the generic aisle that grocery stores had in those days, with the depressing black-and-white packages that blandly stated what type of food they contained. We would also go to the day-old bread store, where we’d sometimes find very little and other times score big loaves of bread (cinnamon raisin being the most exciting variety), and even pastries.
The Things My Mother Taught Me Have Helped Me Be More Selfless
On one of these occasions, my brothers and I were following my mother around the tiny shop. We’d finally made it to the checkout line and were desperately hoping that we were almost done with the shopping.
A little old woman with a different skin color than us was checking out in front of us, trying to buy a loaf of bread and a chocolate cake. She pulled out her cash to pay, and realized she didn’t have enough for both. Her face fell, as she put her head down and paid for the loaf of bread, leaving the cake behind as she hobbled towards the door with her cane.
I watched my mother, who had barely enough money for our bread that week, pause for only a moment, looking from the chocolate cake on the cashier’s shelf to the back of the woman slowly making her way out of the store. She slapped her money down on the counter, picked up the cake and ran—with the sweetest gift of love and sacrifice in chocolate form—to the little lady getting in her car outside. I remember the look on the woman’s face: sheer surprise and wonder that someone had noticed her pain and had stepped up in compassion and kindness.
It was a simple gesture, and we didn’t go hungry because of it. But my mother’s sacrifice that day stuck with me, and I can still see that little woman’s blissful face in my mind. To me, it’s a symbol of the way compassion and sacrificial love can break down all sorts of barriers, even if it’s just in the form of chocolate cake. I am convinced that for that woman, it wasn’t just cake that my mom gave her. It was the gift of being seen, loved and given hope for another day.