I grew up in a tiny South Texas town. By most standards, my family was poor. My four siblings and I had lost both parents by the time I was 5. Our paternal grandmother, Nonnie, did the best she could to take care of us on Social Security and food stamps.
We lived in a subsidized government housing project, were rarely able to keep up with our credit line at the local grocery store, and relied often on the generosity of others to make it through each month.
We always had to find ways to cut corners. Clothes were hand-me-downs or from Goodwill or friends. We made our own Christmas and Valentines cards. (I remember being embarrassed of that as a child, but today, I do it by choice. I love the idea of putting time into creating a unique, personal message.)
When it came to feeding all of us kids, Nonnie had to be very creative. She added crackers to just about everything. Generic saltine crackers were cheap. And they can make meatloaf go a little bit further. Same with hamburger patties and casseroles. We ate a lot of saltine cracker-laden meals in those days.
Recently, I read about how the poor in Haiti have to mix mud in their food to make it go further. Mud. They mix it with flour to make a few more biscuits or simply fry it up with cooking oil or lard and salt to give it a bit of taste. Imagine a mother having to scoop up mud just to have something to feed her hungry children.
I realize just how good my family had it. Even in our poorest condition, we were doing better than billions of people are today. I spent so much of my childhood wondering what it would be like to have a brand-new pair of jeans or to just be able to go to McDonald’s for a burger and fries without breaking the bank. I remember wishing I could buy the same Mickey Mouse Valentines that my friends distributed to classmates.
By age 10, I was desperately wishing to “keep up with the Joneses.” I didn’t realize until much later that we were the Joneses to millions of families living in real poverty. Many would even consider us rich.
This holiday season, I am thankful for the blessings that I have received throughout my life. I’m thankful for saltine crackers and a grandmother who sacrificed so much to care for kids that weren’t even her own. And I vow to be a blessing to those who are truly struggling to survive. Not out of guilt. Not out of some perceived obligation. But because no mother should have to serve mud biscuits to her children.
Because we are the Joneses to a hurting world.