« The Wealthy Family of Our Church »


« I will never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my younger sister Ocy was 12, and my older sister Darlene was sixteen. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us understood what it was like to get by with few possessions.

My father had passed away five years earlier, leaving my mother with seven school-age children and no money. By 1946, my older sisters had married, and my brothers had moved out.

A month before Easter, the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter collection would be taken to help a needy family. He encouraged everyone to save and sacrificially give.

When we got home, we discussed what we could do. We planned to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live off them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 from our food budget for the collection.

Then we figured that if we left our electric lights off as much as possible and avoided using the radio, we could save money on the electricity bill for the month.

Darlene took on as many house and garden cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us looked after any children we knew. For 15 cents, we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1 each. We earned $20 selling pot holders.

That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted our money to see how much we had saved. In the evenings, we sat in the dark and talked about how happy the needy family would be to receive the money from the church.

There were about 80 people in our church, so we estimated that no matter how much money we had, the collection would be at least 20 times as much. Finally, the pastor encouraged everyone every Sunday to save for the sacrificial contribution.

One day before Easter, Ocy and I went to the grocery store and asked the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and a $10 bill as change.

We ran all the way home to show Mama and Darlene. We had never had so much money. We had difficulty sleeping that night because we were so excited.

We didn’t mind not having new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial collection. We couldn’t wait to go to church.

On Sunday morning, it was raining. We didn’t have an umbrella, and the church was almost a mile away, but it didn’t seem to matter if we got wet.

Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to plug the holes. The cardboard fell apart, and her feet got wet, but we sat proudly in church, no matter how we looked.

I heard some teenagers talking about how the Smith girls were wearing their old clothes. When I saw them in their new clothes, I felt extremely rich.

As the sacrificial collection was being taken, we sat in the second row from the front.

Mama put in a $10 bill, and each of us daughters contributed $20. We sang on the way home from church. Mama had prepared a surprise for lunch. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we enjoyed boiled Easter eggs together with our fried potatoes.

In the late afternoon, the pastor arrived in his car. Mama went to the door, spoke briefly with him, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she said nothing.

When she opened the envelope, a large amount of money fell out. There were three crisp $20 bills, a $10 bill, and seventeen $1 bills. Mama put the money back in the envelope.

We didn’t speak but instead sat there staring at the floor. We had gone from a feeling of wealth to a feeling of poverty.

We children had had such a happy existence that we felt sorry for those who didn’t have our parents and a house full of brothers, sisters, and other children constantly coming and going.

We found it amusing to share utensils and see who got the fork or spoon that night. We had two knives that we distributed to those who needed them.

I knew we didn’t have many things that other people had, but I had never thought we were poor. On this Easter day, I realized we were poor. The pastor had given us money for the needy family, so we must be poor.

I didn’t like being poor. I was so embarrassed by my dress and worn-out shoes that I didn’t want to go to church anymore. Everyone there undoubtedly knew we were poor! I thought about school.

I was in ninth grade and at the top of my class, which had over 100 students. I worried whether the children at school realized we were poor. I decided that I could quit school now that I had completed the eighth grade. That was what the law demanded then.

We sat silently for a long time.

Then it got dark, so we went to bed. We girls went to school all week and came home, and no one said much.

Finally, on Saturday, Mama asked what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with their money? We didn’t know. We had never realized we were poor. We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday. »

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