Feeding the Family by Rosemary Werring

It's frightening to be poor. It's much more frightening when you have a family with five young children. My husband's mental illness had exacerbated into schizophrenia. He'd applied for Social Security Disability, which was then -- as now -- slow at being approved. We had to accept welfare from the New York City Department of Social Services.
 
Feeding the family was difficult. In the 1970's, with food stamps, coupons, and careful shopping, we just about managed.
 
There was only one super market within walking distance of our home. The clerks knew all the regular customers. They remembered me because three years earlier I'd gone into false labor with my youngest, Polly. No, no one let me get ahead of them in line. They probably didn't believe me.
 
One day Hyme, the senior clerk, told me he had a great bargain for me. Thirty-six cans of Campbell's soup -- I could have the whole lot for six dollars. What a bargain!
 
Well, some of the cans had ripped labels and more than half had no labels at all. A few had tiny dents -- not enough to make them bad. Hyme did swear that they were all Campbell's Soup and I could bring back any that weren't. It was a bargain. I had trouble carrying them all home. The load almost broke the old baby carriage I used as a shopping cart.
 
"So how do we know what is in each can?" was the logical question of nine-year-old Ernie.
 
Michael, who was eight, had not yet issued his life style statement: "I don't eat no animals." But he was well on his way to becoming a vegetarian. He had no trust in those cans.
 
But the idea of mystery dinners appealed to the three younger girls. They took turns picking the cans while the supply lasted. When compatible, we mixed different soups in one big pot. If they weren't mixed, the kids got to chose and my husband and I had what was left. There was always bread and margarine to fill out the meal.
 
I tried to have dessert. Fruit was always my first choice -- canned or fresh, whatever was on sale. Some nights we had Jell-O. The choice of color was rotated. Michael almost always wanted green. Sometimes we had pudding. Of course chocolate was the favorite.
 
It remained a well-kept secret that powdered skimmed milk was added to the whole milk after the young darlings went to bed each night. Within about a year I was able to arrange childcare for Julia and Polly, the two youngest, and I to went back to work.
 
Last week, I saw a story on the internet. In these times of falling stock values, Campbell's Soup had been the only stock to gain value that day. Immediately I remembered my very own Campbell's soup story.
 
Rosemary Werring is a retired R.N. transplant from Brooklyn N.Y. She is currently enjoying the Arts, Writing, and her Grandchildren in Portland, OR.