It was the frigid winter of 1975, oil prices had skyrocketed, and I had moved back home with my mother, four brothers and two sisters. The house was a modest, four bedroom two story clapboard heated by an oil furnace. In October of that year, Mom assembled a family meeting to ask whether we wanted her to buy groceries or oil for the heater that winter. She wouldn't be able to afford both. Petroleum prices were rising higher than we'd ever seen them, and there was no indication they would go back down. It didn't take long for us to decide that we could keep warm with blankets and space heaters. There were eight of us living in our house and we figured we could sleep together for warmth and comfort.
My father and mother had divorced several years earlier, and Mom was working on the assembly line at General Motors. Even though she was working full time and making union wages of about $10.00 per hour, (roughly equivalent in today's dollars to $25.00 per hour) her salary wasn't enough to pay the mortgage, utilities, food, medical and transportation costs for her family. My father, employed full time, but an active alcoholic at that time, couldn't be
depended upon to pay child support for his five school age children. Today, he would be defined as a deadbeat dad and tracked down by Child Support Enforcement. But back then, even though I urged Mom to take him to court to enforce his responsibility and lessen her burden, she stated that she didn't need him and didn't want to deal with the court system.
When I think back on that freezing winter, I can still recall how frustrated and angry I felt. My mother and I were both working full time, and yet we were forced to make the decision between buying food or heating oil for the winter. I was employed on the second shift at DuPont in a clerical position, earning slightly more than minimum wage in a tedious, mind-numbing job. At Christmastime, a co-worker gave Mom a big bottle of whiskey as a gift. It must've been at least two gallons. I remember this because when I was finished my shift at 1:00am, I would drive home, get out of my warm car, enter the cold house and proceed to drink a few ounces from that bottle. It served as my bed-warmer and sleeping aid.
It seemed to me then, and still does, that people in this country should not be forced to choose between the basic necessities of life. Those necessities, food, shelter, warmth, health care coverage and clothing should be assured for everyone. We Americans live in the richest nation in the world, yet, as of 1999, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty sets forth the figure of over two million homeless people in this country. " On a national level, approximately 39% of the homeless population are children." ...