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Hunger and Food Shortages

Food shortages completely change one's point of view.

In the fifties, when my father realized his working conditions in Lincoln, Nebraska were becoming intolerable, he decided to pull up stakes and move to Florida.   He did it on faith and not by research, being a firm believer in the adage that God would provide.  Unfortunately he didn't realize that in this era before air conditioning, everything in Florida closed down in the summer.  In addition, the whole USA was sliding into a serious recession.  His dream of establishing a new church wasn't working out.   By summer he had been laid off from the only low-paying job he had been able to find.   We weren't fishers or hunters; we had no resources.  We had a house to live in, thanks to my Uncle Theo Tupper, a home builder who personally held the low-cost mortgage on it, but nothing else. But food was about to run out for our family, including my little sister and two small brothers.  

This had to have been the lowest point of my father's life; he was shamed, desperate and discouraged.  Swallowing his pride, he applied for welfare or some other assistance.  To his horror, he found that we didn't qualify, due to having lived in Florida such a short time.  The only aid available consisted of bus tickets back to Nebraska.  Not only were our bridges burned back there, but that would mean abandoning all our possessions, including many household items and pieces of furniture that had been in the family for generations.  So we were stuck.  Our last meal consisted of a few plain cooked beans, a thin "gravy" made with flour and water, and some iced tea.  When that was gone, there was nothing. 

A neighbor came over the next day with half a tin of sticky Christmas ribbon candy that had solidified in Florida's humidity.  She was about to throw it out when she decided we might like it.  She had no idea!  For three full days we chipped off small pieces and passed them out. 

I took my seven year old brother Nathan out into the fields and showed him how to pull out grass stems and eat the tender ends, strip and eat mustard seeds, how to identify sweet-sour sorrel, and which flowers could be munched on, scarcely a source of energy, but something to do.  My father prayed a lot.  My five year old sister, who was probably the most sensitive of the six of us, went into a decline, laying in bed staring at the ceiling and refusing to get up.  I really don't know what would have happened if my Uncle Theo had not stopped by for a visit. 

Daddy knew that due to summertime and the recession, a number of people had defaulted or were behind with their second mortgage payments to Uncle Theo, leaving him extremely short of money, so much so that he hadn't gone north to visit relatives in New York as usual.  In fact, he had made payments on a number of his mortgagee's first mortgages, to help them out and to avoid having the banks foreclose on them, which would leave families with children homeless and erase his second-mortgage investment.  "Don't tell Uncle Theo we're hungry," my Dad warned us.  

When Uncle Theo noticed the children weren't themselves and that my sister Priscilla was unresponsive, he raised a fuss, refusing to let it go until he got to the bottom of it.  I don't think I have ever seen him so angry as when he found out how long we'd been without food. 

"God provides through people's help, not by manna falling from heaven.  You should have told me," he argued with my father.   "You're my niece," he admonished my mother, "and you should have had the sense to ask me for help for the children's sake."  

"We knew you were short of money too," my mother told him.

"Don't worry about it!  A lot of people owe me favors.  Let Bess go with me to help."

What followed was nothing short of amazing.  The first stop was to pick up several baskets and buckets from a construction site.  Then we visited people all over the rural part of southeastern Sarasota county.  Uncle Theo, who tended to mumble his thoughts out loud, non-stop, would recount the favors he had done for this or that person, who also happened to have fruit trees, laying hens or a garden with collards, okra, mustard greens or other summer veggies.   He'd pull a bucket or basket out of the car, find the homeowner and call in some markers.  "Fill the bucket with whatever extra you can spare from your garden," he'd order.  "My niece and her family don't have any food."   Sometimes he reminded them of times he had helped them out one way or another.  

Last stop was a supermarket where he bought some meat, milk, bread, flour and a few other staples.  

We brought my sister to the table for the light meal Mother fixed for  us.  When she tried to eat, her hand shook so badly I had to help her guide the food into her mouth.  I had been somewhat stoic about the situation until that point.  I cried.  

Uncle Theo put us all to work part time on some of his building sites, where we barely earned enough to keep body and soul together.  That fall when I turned sixteen I took a job in town, something that required me to move out on my own as there was no transportation available.  Uncle Theo then moved in with my parents in order to pay the mortgage and to make sure the children stayed well fed.  Eventually things got better for all of us.

Is this the reason I'd like to eat like a horse?  No, I had always done that.  But it did affect the way I treat food.  I have a compulsion to stock ahead, copiously.  I try not to waste food.  I hate to see anyone else waste food.  I grow beans, bananas, papayas, herbs, and have a bunch of fruit trees.  I share food with neighbors and guests, and cannot stand to see people go hungry.   I put extra fruit into a wire basket I have attached to the fence, for passers-by to enjoy.   

When my sister lived with my husband and me during her teens, we found that, while I try to always clean my plate-- and sometimes other peoples as well--,  she would always leave some on her plate to prove that she could!  Just a different point of view.

See Overeating..

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