I was putting a picture of me and E. into a new frame recently when I took the backing off and found a foodstamp. The old-school paper kind, printed with the words "food coupon." I suspect I put it there to remind myself of something.
It made me happy to see it—not because my kid is all grown up and we don’t need foodstamps anymore—or because it’s a symbol of struggle and achievement but because these pieces of paper have good associations for me. They meant we could go grocery shopping.
During the time we were on foodstamps and WIC, I didn’t know how to drive, so we would go shopping by bicycle and E. would hold the bag in his lap in the baby seat. We had moved from a squat on the Eastside of Buffalo because of shootings and arsons and annoying hippie housemates, to an apartment on the Westside—our own space with a small public library nearby and a little yard.
We were on welfare for two years—and we typified American public assistance recipients at the time; white, not formally educated, a woman, a child, generally in the program for a little over a year, usually during a time of transition.
The picture of me and E. was taken by a friend when we were visiting the city. We are leaning back on a couch together—E. is short and grinning, resting his head against me and I look like a tired, nerdy, kid; a book open on my lap, wearing black framed glasses and a black sweater.
When I think about where we came from I’m not ashamed of having lived it, or proud of having gotten out. The shame of the kind of poverty that threatens to keep a mother from feeding her child lies squarely elsewhere. And having pride just for scraping your way up to that place is for fools.
I no longer know why I put the foodstamp behind the photograph. Unless it was to remember our rides to the grocery store, our hours of reading, or the happiness of feeding my baby. Memories that make it clear that, regardless of what we want, we all need the same things.