I’m nine and we’re sitting at the living room table she made a year or so back. It was a full dining room table but she cut down the legs, sanded it back. I remember gouging it with a fork handle in a fit of pique, a childish anger vented at some one thing she must have been proud of.
I’m looking at the empty grooves now, and asking,
“Is this tea?”
“Be quiet and eat.”
“But it’s just weetbix.”
“The benefit isn’t till tomorrow, so eat up.”
“But it’s breakfast isn’t it?”
“Just eat up.”
It’s a story I tell for years, of the superimposition of hunger by ‘our situation’. In retrospect it’s the one thing I associate with benefit dependency, the constant hunger, not only for basic nutrition, but for the many small things others take for granted you lack. The small luxuries and the simple things you cannot afford. A hunger for invaluables like comfort, security, certainty.
You see these things among people you consider rich, and you crave them. You hoard small objects, the cast offs of the better offs, and you think yourself lucky to have snatched such prizes.
I remember being perhaps 10, or 11, and sitting on the floor of the dining room reading Australian Womens Weekly Cookbook, a glossy A4 softcover filled with large pictures of simple foods. Brandy snaps. Yorkshire pudding. The pages were something I would treasure, the details of the recipes something I would pore over, a series of simple how-to pictures I must have subconsciously replicated here on this very blog. I would look at these foods and yearn for the ingredients, the know-how. But to practice we would need more than what we had. And what we had wasn’t enough.
So where are the choices in that? We were making the right life choices. We were frugal as our station demanded. We made the most of what we had. But still we ate cereal for dinner while our neighbours’ cat ate gravy beef.
What is it about dependency that means you must suffer in silence the ire of those who consider themselves your betters?
I sit now in comfort, folded in the bounty of the middle classes, and I look back to those days as a hazy memory, and I’m thankful to be free of then. I can sit now and listen to people run down the poor to someone the feel is a social equal, and while I no longer feel myself an interloper, I sometimes feel I have abandoned my past, that I have turned my back on what it was to be both hungry and undeserving.
Until I see the ire acted out again, as if by rote, an endless script of hate and condescension.