Mrs. Wheeler

Image by ivabalk from Pixabay 

I’m not sure what her maiden name was but it sure as hell wasn’t Wheeler. She was as Hungarian as Hungarians came but she married a guy by the name of Wheeler. He was an airplane mechanic for a huge airline and he made good money so they had a very comfortable house in Queens where they boarded me.

I was clearly a source of revenue for them but overall they did not treat me poorly. I was like an associate family member and went wherever they went; shopping, visiting relatives, fishing…whatever. She was a good cook and that combined with the fact that she believed I was too skinny led me to become more filled out.

And so food was never a problem. I got anything I wanted. And plenty of it. Goulash, chicken paprika, spaghetti and meatballs, devil dogs and black cherry soda.

She had asthma, had gained weight and so the image and rough coughing voice was not pleasant, especially when she wanted me to bring her a cup of tea or cigarettes up to her headquarters on the main level.

This was during an important part of my life. 5th grade, well you go through a lot. I had to transfer schools to live with her and the new school was better but the teacher sucked. More on her in another story. I had to leave behind a girl named Claudia…maybe a blooming first love and my best friend Ricky to go where I knew no one. But there were decent kids in the neighborhood, and her sons took me under their wings and taught me about their music scene…Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition, The Cream, all kinds of psychedelic shit. Her wanting to fatten me up with her cooking was an act of caring. Overall they were okay, and it may have fueled a life long affinity for things Hungarian.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

USDA

Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

US Department of Agriculture.  That’s what was printed on Food Stamps when they were actually physical paper currency.  Actually, the word “Food Stamp” did not appear, the proper name was “Food Coupon”.    I would know.  They are what kept food on the table in our little household after my mother was disabled.   But I know,  people use them to abuse them.  A few I suppose,  but mostly, they were, and are,  used to buy food.  Do you doubt that?

Here I am as as a 12 year old boy. Now come along with me to Key Foods on Jamaica Avenue in Hollis, Queens.  Come to the register,  as I remove the multi-colored currency from my pocket and try to sneak it to the cashier who is annoyed.  She is annoyed because it changes her flow.  There are impatient people in line with actual money.  They are watching.  The bag boy is watching.   They are all watching as she carefully counts out my change in the currency of poverty and hands it back to me.  Look around to see if anyone from school has seen me, especially the girls. Grab the groceries with me and slink out of the store.

Now take that experience,  multiply it by the lens of adolescence,  that same lens that thinks every slight is the end of the world.  Now tell me,  that people want to be on Food Stamps.

One summer, during my college days I was starving.  I had no money.  I had no food.  I lived in a dorm which was probably a salvation but it was hard to find a job.  I was eligible for food stamps.  I lived on puffed rice cereal, usually without milk or sugar rather than take food stamps.  I knew, that hassle of trying to get them and the embarrassment of having to use them. No one wants that.  People take them because they are desperate.  Because they need to feed their children.  Because they are less fortunate.  So stop being selfish ,  and enjoy the fact that we live in a country where we can afford to help people less fortunate.

Don’t get me started on how my mother was disabled in the first place.  That is another, angrier story.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved