"The state of being poor or without competent subsistence" is the general definition given by the dictionary. To someone who has lived in such a state, it is much more than second hand clothes and an empty stomach.
Migrant workers who go from farm to farm to gather the crops at harvest time, live under these substandard conditions. So does the share cropper in the Appalachian area who moves from farm to farm to till the soil for the land owners. Some land owners give two-thirds of a crop a share cropper raises on his land, and some give only half of the crop. If the land is in poor condition and does not yield a good crop, he could end up with less from the land owner who gives two-thirds of the crop.
There is also the house to consider, as the sharecropper has to live in whatever house the land owner has to offer. The house that has broken windows and loose floor boards and no doors between the rooms means a drafty, cold house in the winter. So the share cropper moves from farm to farm in search of more food from the crops and a better house for his family.
Moving year after year is wear and tear on the already meager furnishings. It constantly uproots the family and changes the children from school to school. Adjustments to the new teacher and classmates are made more difficult with the shabby clothes and bare feet, and the laughter and snickers of the other children.
There are the times of sickness when there is not any way to go for a doctor, or any money to pay him. So the family turns to home remedies such as castor oil, turpentine, catnip tea, kerosine oil, and sulfur and molasses. Sometimes, the remedy is worse than the sickness. For example, kerosine oil for the sore throat, which can make one so violently ill, the sore throat is forgotten.
There are the times when the home remedies fail to work and the doctor gets there too late. A beautiful little baby is claimed by death, and is laid out in a rough hand-made coffin of one-inch boards and two-by-fours covered in a remnant of satin. The helpless, empty feeling that washes over the body after such an ordeal is never forgotten.
Poverty is something more than an empty stomach to those who have to live in it.
Elsie Lois Kolbasa, or Lois Kolbasa, or Elsie Lois Rice is my mother. She was born and raised in the Appalacian Mountains of North Carolina. She told stories of growing up there and in her later years, courtesy of a writing class at the local college, put some of those stories to paper. This is one of those stories. For her dad was a sharecropper and her youngest brother, William, died within days of his birth.