How to look poor


Tyr
#1
Maybe if everyone put on the rattiest clothes, the gov't would finally clue in

Clifford Firmin hated "the sweater test."

Growing up in St. Thomas, Ont., during the 1930s, he needed handouts.
His father, James, a laid-off railway worker, was a single parent raising two boys on pocket change earned from cutting grass or shovelling dirt for the city.

It wasn't enough that the family was flat broke. To get clothes from the relief counter at city hall, you had to look flat broke.

Necessity was judged by a clerk's hard stare.

"If the shirt you were wearing didn't look well-worn enough, they'd turn you back," says Firmin, 88, a soft-spoken retir
ed chemist who put himself through the University of Western Ontario after World War II.

Before presenting himself at the counter, Firmin, who was about 10 at the time, had to work at looking worse than he felt. He would rub the fabric of his sweater between his palms like a Boy Scout lighting a fire. After a few minutes, a patch of his white belly would show through.

That's what the clerk liked to see. Give the poor boy a prize. Firmin would walk out of city hall with a new sweater from the neatly folded pile stacked against the wall behind the relief counter.

Firmin's mother Hilda, a native of Norfolk, England, was only 30 when she died in 1927. Clifford and his younger brother Aubrey had just started elementary school. Three years later, the Depression hit their father hard.

Laid off from Pere Marquette railway, James Firmin opened his three-bedroom, wood-frame home at 16 Mabel St. to a couple with two children in exchange for rent money.

The front room became something of a battle zone with the two families arguing over who would clean the mess that week.

"It was an awkward situation," Firmin recalls.

"We sort of all lived together, which wasn't easy when you have young kids. They don't like to be tied down like that."

When he started high school in 1934, Firmin spent his Saturdays as an assistant to the man who ran Jackson's Bread, a small company that sold loaves of rye and pastries from a horse-drawn wagon.

For three summers, he picked tobacco leaves, his body covered in the sticky, black gum that oozed from the plant.

"It was a dirty place to work, tobacco farms," he says.

"As I recall, the most I ever got was $1.75 a day. A lot of men wouldn't do it because it was such a messy job. You don't get rich quick, no. You got covered in black tar head to toe. The farmers put out buckets of water so you could wash up before you went home."

James Firmin rewarded his son with the only pleasure he could afford. One of the odd jobs his father picked up during the Great Depression involved looking after parklands for the London Port Stanley Railway.
"We got to ride on the train down to Port Stanley for nothing!" Firmin says, still excited by the memory.

"You could fish in Lake Erie off the pier. You don't appreciate how clear the water was.

"I could stand on the sandbars out into the lake up to here," he says, motioning to his waist. "I could put my head in the water and look at my feet."
He sighs, his blue eyes sparkling.

"As clear as a bell."
 
Spade
#2
Morning Tyr,

When I was growing up we were so poor, my mum papered the ceiling of the two-room log cabin with comics. My uncle when he visited would stare up at them. He would have stood on a chair to read them...if we had a chair...if he could read.

Cousin Spade
 
Tyr
#3
Quote: Originally Posted by SpadeView Post

Morning Tyr,

When I was growing up we were so poor, my mum papered the ceiling of the two-room log cabin with comics. My uncle when he visited would stare up at them. He would have stood on a chair to read them...if we had a chair...if he could read.

Cousin Spade

Your cabin had TWO rooms. Damm I had to sleep on the floor between Uncle Phil and the pig..
 
Spade
#4
We had two rooms, but could only afford one window! But, of course, no glass. In the summer, we'd train spiders to spin their webs in the opening to keep out the rain. In the winter, we'd use a pane of ice from the creek. When the pane melted, we knew it was spring!
 
lone wolf
#5
Nice to know you can joke about it....
 
coldstream
#6
The best indicator of someone's well being is in his shoes. Virtually everything else can be stitched, washed, pressed for a pittance, and you can pick up replacements at the Goodwill or Sally Anne... but shoes are always last on the list to get polished, re-soled, replaced. See someone who is down at his heels, and chances are he's down on his luck as well.
 
lone wolf
#7
...or has a really comfortable pair of shoes that he just hates the thought of throwing out. I have a pair like that....
 
SirJosephPorter
#8
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolfView Post

...or has a really comfortable pair of shoes that he just hates the thought of throwing out. I have a pair like that....

Quite right, lone wolf. I have never in my life worn fancy shoes; I always wear walking shoes (mainly because I walk a lot). Walking shoes look nowhere as spiffy or as fancy as dress shoes, but they are very comfortable to walk in, you could walk 30 or 35 kilometers in a day without any trouble.

Indeed, I don’t think you can make out how well off a person is by the way he dresses. The rich usually do not dress like rich, Donald Trumps of the world are a rarity, a much more common type of rich person is Warren Buffet (who lives in a modest home and drives a pick up truck).

Many well off people dress, live like everyone else, and just by looking at them you would never guess they are well off. Certainly looking at me or my wife nobody will guess we are rich or well off. We drive a modest car (Camry); we wear sensible, modest clothes and shoes. We don’t’ buy brand names.

There is a well known book, “Millionaire Next Door”. In it the author says that there may be a millionaire living next door to you and you may not know it.

The stereotype image of the rich people (Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner) is not based in reality. In realty, many more millionaires are like Warren Buffet than like Trump.
 
taxslave
#9
SirJo: So true. The richest person that I know of in our area is 84, owns a gravel pit, works everyday dresses like he lives in DES and drives a beat up van. I suspect that he still has the first penny he ever made.
 
Spade
#10
Quote: Originally Posted by coldstreamView Post

The best indicator of someone's well being is in his shoes.

You had shoes?! When I was a kid we used to paint our feet black; mum would make little bows out of binder twine which we'd glue on our ankles so't the neighbours wouldn't talk.

In spring, when there were still patches of snow on the ground, on our way to school we'd walk behind the cattle just to keep our feet warm.
 
Spade
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolfView Post

Nice to know you can joke about it....

Never thought we were poor.
 
Tyr
#12
 
Tyr
#13
Quote: Originally Posted by SpadeView Post

Never thought we were poor.


ahhhh. To be poor. I've worked hard all my life to be poor. Much better than being destitiute

 
SirJosephPorter
#14
ahhhh. To be poor. I've worked hard all my life to be poor. Much better than being destitiute

Tyr, Mahatma Gandhi once said It is amazing how much it costs my friends to keep me in poverty.
 
lone wolf
#15
Money? Phooey! If that be the gauge by which I am measured, my worth is little. In life's treasures and peace of mind, I possess wealths beyond the conception and imagination of many.
 
Tyr
#16
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolfView Post

Money? Phooey! If that be the gauge by which I am measured, my worth is little. In life's treasures and peace of mind, I possess wealths beyond the conception and imagination of many.


"A little house well fill'd, a little land well till'd, and a little wife well will'd, are great riches."

- Unattributed Author,
written in a copy of the "Grete Herbal"
 
CanadianLove
#17
 
Diarygirl
#18
I grew up in a family of 7, 9 including my parents. We had hand me downs for most of our life. There were times that we had no electricity, hydro, oil or gas. We burned candles only to read and burned wood for heat that my father picked up around town. He was a proud man and would not take handouts so we sufficed as well as we could with very little. Food was always sparing and we all worked for what we got. I recall cleaning up and fixing some of my sisters and brothers toys to sell to make money so we could have a treat such as to go to a matinee! Those were struggling times but we learned to appreciate what we had and not abuse or take for granted material things. We learned to be thankful for what we had.
I used to envy my school mates and tried to fit in as well as I could. Even in those days they would comment and make remarks about not having the newer things that we "in". It was only when I was in my late teens that my father luckily started his own business and things got better for my younger siblings. (I was the second eldest.) I think it developed "character", "responsibility" and "compassion" to have to go through life that way. I wouldn't change a thing even if I could turn back time. We were poor but rich in other ways!!
 
Diarygirl
#19
Oops! { Even in those days they would comment and make remarks about not having the newer things that we "in". } Should read were "in"!! Duh...not paying attention to my grammar!
 
gopher
#20
''To get clothes from the relief counter at city hall, you had to look flat broke. ''


In the States, the richer you are the more money you get from the government.
 
VanIsle
#21
I grew up with 3 brothers and two sisters. It seemed like everyone in town had old small houses. People down the street had 13 kids. Made our family feel small. Until I was about 9 or 10, we had a 3 bedroom house. I don't know why it was arranged this way but (my oldest sister moved out when I was 1)but my second sister had her own room and Mom & Dad theirs, and my brothers and myself shared a room. One double bed and two singles. Then Dad turned the attic into two more bedrooms (built by him). I never felt inferior to any other kids on the street except once. By that time we were all old enough to be going to school dances and everyone was getting a new dress. My folks couldn't afford one for me. My Mom worked so hard and made me a very nice new dress - sewing for hours. Not old enough to know better, I was embarrassed to be seen in it at the dance even though I did wear it. Odd how overtime, the thoughts of that dress have become so dear and the embarrassment has long ago disappeared. How I wish I could let my Mom know that given the chance, instead of feeling so upset, I would tell her how proud I was of what she had done for me. Not a single person said anything bad about my dress. It was all my own imagination.
There's been some serious and some funny talk about shoes. I spent a lot of my life buying cheap shoes. I always felt I didn't want shoes that lasted too long as I liked new ones. Be kind to your feet. Buy good shoes or you will pay later in life. I have not worn a nice pair of heels for years. I simply cannot anymore. Give me my crocs anytime. No, as a general rule I do not wear the $17.00 kind. I go to Marks where they cost over $40.00 but they are a casual comfortable shoe, good short term. I need good shoes to work in. Runners!!
 
gopher
#22
Don't feel bad, kid. I was born on the floor of a tin shack and grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn which remains the worst ghetto in the City. As for clothes, all I ever got was my brother's hand me downs. Perhaps that why I have always kept my duds well spruced up as an adult.
 

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