I wavered about watching an episode of “Struggle Street”, then gave in and watched it. My reaction at first was horror, at the level of bad language the sad state of houses, and the daily grind of dealing with drugs and ugliness. Then it started to make me think about what being poor means, or what it can mean. How some things never change. How from no fault of their own people find themselves in serious trouble, it can happen to anyone. Life deals some harsh blows.
I know how it was for my grandparents. Grandad had a good job as a young man, he was a glass blower by trade. He had a young family, a tough but hard working wife, and five children. Then came the depression and life changed. They lost their youngest daughter to measles, and then he lost his job due to the economic downturn. Life became truly awful with often no food to spare. So what did he do? He became a lamp lighter and later Gran cleaned cinemas. But also during that time they kept a perfect house and garden. Gran was a scary woman, I was eight when she died, but keenly remember the visits to her house, everything shone; she scrubbed her home from top to bottom, floors gleamed. I was scared to walk on those floors. Grandad made sure there were tomatoes and potatoes in the garden, always something to eat, he helped in every way he could and they kept their heads held high. He wore a clean white cravat, even if his suit was a trifle shiny, and he polished all the shoes for the family. The pawn shop often had his best suit for a week until they could get it back. Mum said they always had ‘Sunday’ clothes, even in bad times.
That was the difference, they had such PRIDE, being poor was already bad enough, so they had to make themselves appear better, not show their poverty. It seems that is what we have lost, that sense of pride in ourselves and our homes, not the puffed up pride of the wealthy or the superior beings who feature in the gossip pages, but the simple things.
Doing what you can with the home you have, not trashing it because you are frustrated. Washing the children, and trying to keep the home reasonably clean. I know sometimes the sheer effort involved is enough to crush even the strongest soul, and long hours of grinding work can wear you down. We have had the good days and the bad in our lives, times when we could go out for meals that cost a frightening amount, and then times when we make meals from whatever is in the fridge. I can deal with both. On returning from New Zealand I had one good dress to wear, I had not bought many clothes and had three children under four, so that dress was washed and ironed and back ready to wear several times a week. I walked miles with children and liked to look clean and presentable when I went out. The pride my parents had instilled in me was the strength I needed. Perhaps it is just the drugs some use now destroying that strength, and then it seems too much of a struggle to even try?
I had an aunt who lived near a railway line and her one topic of conversation wash the gleaming white of her washing, which she compared with the grey efforts of those less industrious in their laundry. Although it was funny, it was also an obvious example of ‘standards’ of a job well done, perhaps the only thing she could feel that elusive pride in. When I look at the rubbish strewn gardens and trashed homes it makes me long for the days when people cared a bit more about their neighbourhood, and about themselves.
Tell us, do you agree with Jacqui? Did being poor mean something different years ago?