This is a continuing blog series by Lisa Williams, Feeding Wisconsin’s blogger in residence. Lisa will be sharing stories from her lived experiences, her fight against hunger, how she faced it down, and how she won. She is now a Lead Recovery Specialist at a local non-profit helping others turn their lives around. Lisa is a current Fellow in the Ex Fabula Fellows Program. You can find the rest of her series here.
The holidays are complex for me and I have some really conflicted feelings during the season. First, I feel like the commercialism surrounding the holiday season has overshadowed the fact it should just be a time of reflection and to be with families and friends. I still struggle with the holidays because I remember growing up, I would get very little in the way of gifts or food during Christmas. There was one time when I saw my cousins getting some very nice gifts for Christmas and all I got an undergarment and a pair of socks. I vowed that if I ever had kids, I would never get them underwear for Christmas.
When I had my son, I really couldn’t afford to get any gifts with an income of $268.00 per month, so I wasn’t financially stable enough to get him gifts until he was five years old and I went crazy shopping for him. I wanted to see him happy, and I guess I was trying to make up for the years that I couldn’t shop for him.
Yet, while the holidays were tough because we had so little as a child, I still looked forward to them because I would get to be with my extended family. Since I was the only child living with my grandparents, I spent so much of my time alone, and so during the holidays, I got great joy being around my cousins as we would eat together at the table and then spend the rest of the time talking and playing throughout the house as the adults talked among themselves.
During the summer months where we lived in the Mississippi Delta, a truck would pull up outside of our house and the man would deliver huge baskets of peas to my grandmother. I can remember helping my grandmother "shell peas” which meant cracking open the shell with our fingers and letting the peas fall into a bowl. I remember shelling so many peas that my fingertips were purple. On some occasions, when my cousins visited, we would sometimes try to see who could out-shell each other.
My grandmother would then half cook the peas and put them into plastic bags and put them in the freezer. We then had a season’s worth of peas to eat and they usually came out in the winter, during the holidays.
Because we always had peas and butterbeans to eat, I never remembered being hungry as a child. But sometimes I didn’t want any more peas and beans because I had eaten so many of them I would just get physically nauseated especially when my grandmother made me eat them.
When you eat so much of one thing, it tends to get boring whether you’re hungry or not and your body starts to crave other foods. I would get the guilt trip that some people didn’t even have peas to eat, so I should be grateful. I grew up eating so many peas and butterbeans that when I could finally say no, I refused to eat them for a while as an adult. Now, when I hear kids say, “I’m not eating any peas,” I just chuckle because I realized that I wasn’t the only one that must have had peas on their dinner tables, whether it was during the holidays or not.
As an young teenager, I remember my mother signing up for holiday food baskets and standing in long lines, which at that time, I really didn’t care to do. Even though we were getting food for the holidays, I didn’t want other people who may have just been passing by to see me as being greedy or even needy because I would hear some people in the community say that “they” - meaning people who were in the food lines - were taking advantage of these programs and didn’t really need them; “they were just being greedy”.
However, as an adult when I first moved to Milwaukee, I had to stand in those same lines once or twice and was very humbled by the whole experience. I was just as embarrassed as I had been when my mother stood in the lines years before in Chicago. I felt like I was one of the poor people who I heard other people put down.
Let me tell you - nobody wants to stand in that line. The only reason I did it was because I wanted my son to have a nice holiday dinner and to not feel like we couldn’t afford food. So, I was grateful that these programs were there for that reason alone.
I’m glad that I don’t have to do stand in lines anymore, at least not right now. I try and donate to help others eat for the holidays because I know someone in the past donated to help me and my family eat during those times.
In the Thanksgiving post on the blog, David wrote of his experience answering phones at the holiday phone bank for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. He wrote, “Food, especially during this time of year, carries with it a lifetime of meaning. It's through these holiday meals shared with friends and family that we mark the progress in our lives. These meals remind us that we are cared for and loved and remembered.”
That was so powerful to me. Because while the holidays still remain a complex time for me, I remember all of the good times that came with it – and they usually had to do with people coming together to prepare food and to eat. Food brings people together and I think it’s food is the most important aspect surrounding the holidays. Something special happens when people eat together, it builds a sense of community and bonding as one, because no matter our differences, we all have this one thing in common – we all need to eat.
Food gives our bodies and minds energy so that we can move through the world, and if some of us don’t have food, our bodies won’t allow us to do this very basic thing – to live.