I sat on the curb waiting for the mailman and the welfare check that he delivered to my mother every two weeks. I had to go with my mother to cash the checks. The money was too quickly gone if I didn't follow her around.
We were poor.
We almost never had food in the refrigerator.
I searched the sofa, drawers, and coat pockets for loose change.
Often my mother had me gather 100 pennies from an old jelly jar and put them into penny rolls. Then she'd send me to the Puerto Rican store.
But worse yet was when she sent me to the store with food stamps.
Food stamps were colored money.
The $10 food stamps were blue.
The $5 food stamps were pink.
And the $1 food stamps were tan.
I wandered outside the store if I saw people I knew. We certainly were not the only ones in our neighborhood with food stamps, but as a kid, there was something shameful about being "caught" using them.
When the store was nearly empty, I ran in and quickly grabbed what my mother needed. At the counter, I ripped the $1 food stamps out of the book and gave them to the cashier. Hurry! The door swung open – it was someone I knew! The cashier spread the tan food stamps in rows across the counter. Hurry, hurry! The line behind me grew longer while the cashier slowly counted the food stamps. Finally the food was bagged and I rushed out the store.
As I walked home I promised myself never to need a welfare check or food stamps.
But in time, I would.