Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hard Up: 'Pinching Pennies' by Joyce Kennedy

I sent James Moore this poem yesterday, written by my mother, Joyce Kennedy. It recalls her childhood during the depression in small town North Dakota. My mom has often said that she always felt like her family had enough of everything; nevertheless, an awareness of tight times comes through in this timely-once-again poem. There's a child's observation of language, too.

Pinching Pennies

   I tried to get out of the country,
   But poverty forced me to stay…
                                The Old Settler's Song

Back then, my mother and father said
money was scarce--they talked of getting by.
Those were hard times--my mother's sister,
Mattie, and her family, were hard up.
"But Mattie keeps her house so clean,
you can eat off the floor," my mother said.
Almost everyone had to pinch pennies,
some folks were flat broke--
wasn't the whole country down on its luck?

"Money doesn't grow on trees," said Dad;
even if it did, trees on prairie were few.
"They're poor as church mice," said Mother,
creating for me a picture of little mice-children
scampering across the floor of the church basement,
scrabbling for crumbs from the Ladies' Aid.

Set back from a country road, it was 
the poorhouse afflicted my young heart.
Low and ramshackle, it looked about
to fall down, so poor it was in spirit.
"Poor house," I thought as we drove by,
 feeling sorry. That was where we would go
 if we got to be too hard up--
 "We'll end up in the poorhouse!"
We would reach rock bottom,
flat as prairie, not up in any way.

Joyce Kennedy

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