Living Columns & Blogs

A startling number of North Carolina families live in poverty

Charlotte leaders are asking voters to approve $50 million in bonds for affordable housing over the next two years on November’s ballot. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force cited a shortage of affordable housing as a major reason a Harvard and UC-Berkeley study found poor children in Charlotte are less likely to escape poverty than their peers in America’s 50 largest cities.
Charlotte leaders are asking voters to approve $50 million in bonds for affordable housing over the next two years on November’s ballot. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force cited a shortage of affordable housing as a major reason a Harvard and UC-Berkeley study found poor children in Charlotte are less likely to escape poverty than their peers in America’s 50 largest cities. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

I was surprised to read recently that according to the N.C. Policy Watch’s latest report, more than 7 percent of North Carolina households, or about 725,000 residents, live in poverty.

That translates to an average income of $12,300 per year, or $8 per person per day, for a family of four.

During my Great Depression childhood, my large family had very little cash. However, living on a farm, we never went to bed hungry or lacked warm clothes. We never thought of ourselves as being poor.

I frequently recall author Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” in which he describes the extreme poverty he experienced while growing up in a family with five children in Limerick, Ireland.

On the day young McCourt’s alcoholic, ne’er-do-well father is leaving to find work in England, his mother has managed to scrounge up one egg for the father’s farewell breakfast. He describes the incident:

“M’am (mother) says, ‘This egg is for your father. He needs the nourishment for the long journey before him. ‘

“It’s a hard-boiled egg and Dad peels off the shell,” McCourt writes. “ He slices the egg and gives each of us a bit to put on our bread. M’am says, ‘Don’t be such a fool,’ and Dad says, ‘What would a man be doing with a whole egg to himself?’

“M’am has tears on her eyelashes. She pulls her chair over to the fireplace. We all eat our bread and egg and watch her cry till she says, ‘What are you gawkin’ at?’ and turns away to look at the ashes.”

Charlotte’s webs

The window washers had come and gone before I realized I had neglected to tell them to spare Charlotte, the spider that lived on the outside of the kitchen window.

I felt remorseful until the next morning, when my wife announced from the kitchen that Charlotte had returned. A re-built web was there shimmering in the morning sunlight. Not many people I know have a pet spider. I recommend them as long as they live outside.

The spider’s persistence in prevailing against such a setback reminded me of the horrendous destruction by the California forest fires that have claimed almost 90 lives, with hundreds more still unaccounted for, and laid waste to the entire town of Paradise as well as hundreds of homes elsewhere.

How does someone, physically and mentally, cope with such raw, life-rending tragedy? The victims deserve the nation’s sympathy, compassion and financial aid.

That time again

The “gimme” Christmas mail is pouring in. Thumbing through the Heifer International catalog, I decided that I will probably donate a flock of geese this year.

The catalog notes that the recipient family, who lives in a country where people struggle with severe hunger, will sell the geese eggs in order to buy food.

Home address

I have a fascination for unusual street names. Every time I drive along Sleepy Hollow Drive in the Brookhaven subdivision, a sense of “slow down” tranquility descends upon me. The name suggests a tree-shaded, somewhat isolated location rather than a busy residential street.

I envy those who live on this enviable Raleigh road: Clear Sailing Lane.

In contrast, for years every time I drove past Jones Sausage Road across town, I sympathized with those who live there. But when I mentioned my concern in a column, I received several emails from Jones Sausage Road residents assuring me that they’re perfectly comfortable with their unique street name.

After all, my home address growing up was Route 2, Dobson. There’s certainly nothing pretty or poetic about Route 2, Dobson. Back then, I wished I lived on nearby Possum Trot Road.

Longtime pen pals

Thanks for the many reader responses to my recent item about longtime pen pals.

The 70-year correspondence between Linda Textoris Helga Pfleger in Vienna, which began in the fifth grade, is by far the longest pen pal relationship among those who wrote me.

“It was soon after World War II and all of Europe was in need of any kind of help,” Linda recalls. “Our teacher contacted a teacher, a local Austrian woman, who had a teacher friend in Vienna. We sent boxes of clothes to the children in that teacher’s class.”

In the exchange of the class rolls, Linda drew Helga’s name.

The two have exchanged visits and still correspond.

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