The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 33

Growing Up Poor Can Help Your Writing

I grew up on a chicken farm five miles out of town at the end of dirt road in Cecil County, Maryland.  I was an only child. My parents were Finnish immigrants who had come to this country during the Great Depression.

We didn’t have much materially.  We had a cow, drank the milk and churned our own butter (I helped).  We had a big vegetable garden and fruit trees.  We ate out own fruits and vegetables and canned the extras for the winter months.  We had an outhouse until I was 12 years old and my father put an addition onto our tiny home with a real tub and shower.

Our friends were mostly from Scandinavia and we lived similar lives.  There was no TV when I cam home from school, there was work to be done, grading and packing eggs, cutting the grass with a push mower, painting chicken coops and outbuildings, picking apples, pulling weeds.

On Saturdays, I cleaned the house because my mother was too busy with farm chores, and it had better be done right!

Our friends lived similar lives.  They were mostly Scandinavian immigrants:  Swedes, Finns, Danes.  For amusement, my friends and I hiked in the woods, fished in the creeks, and swam in the Chesapeake Bay.

The adults had dinners at each other’s houses, simple food, homemade and delicious.  There were periodic Finnish Dances where an accordion player played waltzes and polkas and various folk dances. I watched my parents dance and laugh among the other couples swirling around.

Today, my humbles beginnings don’t seem humble anymore and they gave me a great understanding of different people.  You don’t have to live in big house to be happy.  You don’t need country club memberships, fancy cars and designer clothing.

Today, I write about many different people in my magazine articles and books.  I have empathy because of my upbringing.  I understand what it’s like to be poor and to count every penny.  I understand immigrants and language barriers, and the worth of hard work because you’re your own bottom line.

I know what it’s like to be teased because your parents have an accent and you wear hand-made dresses and have only one pair of shoes.

My advice?  Use your past experiences to flavor your writing.  And, enjoy the ride.  To this day, I get a thrill whenever I push the lever and hear the toilet flush!

The picture is be at the age of 15 with chicken coops in the background.  Love it!

Speak Your Mind