It was a surprise, a treat, and a strategy although as a kid at the time, I felt it was a trick and I had been treated – having breakfast for dinner.
Now I understand, the cupboard was nearly bare; there was only a package of something frozen solid in the freezer; and the check was two days away. What’s a mother to do? Come up with some new. Make what’s on hand do.
There were eggs. There was bacon grease, a bit of butter. Once, I remember, there was a block of government cheese. Crusts and odd slices of bread were thawed out or sometimes some hot water cornbread or biscuits would be made. So dinner was a little of this, a little of that. Eggs scrambled with cheese in bacon grease. Cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on toast. Applesauce made from apples in the root cellar. There might have been a can of spam or a little bologna – one slice for each of us.
I was excited. Mom was breaking the rules, making breakfast for dinner. Pancakes? What?! Turning the day upside down. If you have breakfast for dinner who knew what else might happen that didn’t usually happen? (Like Daddy bringing a bag of White Castles home and waking the kids up to feast.)
As an adult, you realize that the aunt or grandmother didn’t just happen by with a bag of food because they’d run into a good sale. You remember seeing a bill being slipped into a housecoat pocket during the greeting hug. The women of the family looked out for each other. If they saw a need they would fill it. If they hadn’t heard from each other, they would come on by unannounced, sending us kids out to play or giving us a few coins to get candy from the corner store while they discussed grown-up things.
I learned from my mother how to stretch, make a way from little, and keep the kids separate most of the time from adult bizness. As an adult, I faced times when ends didn’t mean, money was tight, pride was high, and I wasn’t going to tell anyone I needed anything – physical distance helped disguise need from my family.
I eventually learned to keep a budget. I finally got a credit card. I learned to shop on the sale aisles in the store with my daughter becoming the coupon champion. Did you know that onions, green, pepper, and celery make everything taste better? Casseroles are your friend – where a little bit of meat goes a long way. Carrots are always cheap. As was tuna. There were certain places where your money would stretch further including the sales at the church up on the hill in Dorchester (whose name escapes me now) that had canned goods for a quarter.
Keep it moving. Pay day is near. A better salary will come. You can take a second job and, if you’re lucky, it’ll be a Saturday youth program that you can also bring your kids to.
We got by. Thank you, Mom, for showing me the way. Thank you for those boxes of clothes and gifts for the kids and the occasional cash. Thank you, grandmother for the same. Thank you, Rosa, for sharing the early journey of being young parents far from home. Thank you Pattie, for being there for most of the way. We leaned on each other and we learned to do better and our kids knew they were loved. They are all doing well. Our sacrifices helped them do more, better, and quicker. Breakfast for dinner was a winner…a quiet splendor.
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I wish I could sew like my mother.