Posted by: johnhourihan | November 26, 2012

Rich boy, poor boy

That Sunday was white.
There was a white sun, in a white sky, and the smell of the cold air promised more snow would whiten the rest of the week.
It was the day before the big move. I was about eight years old and had, only a few months earlier, entered the third grade.
The big move was from the one bed in the “Little Room” that I shared with my two younger brothers downstairs, to the unfinished upstairs, and by unfinished I mean unheated, plank floors and framed walls with no inside wallboard to cover the pink fiberglass insulation. Ma had only given in to my consistent begging, expecting it would only be a few frigid nights before I would move back downstairs.
I spread on the floor some heavy winter cloth coats my mother had bought at an auction for twenty five cents a box, rolled one up for a pillow and pulled my air force blanket, a present from my uncle Fran last Christmas, up over my bare shoulders. The window bottom started only a few inches above the floor, so I could get comfortable and still look out it at the winter dusk.
It was snowing when I went to bed, and the bottoms of the window panes were etched with inside ice. I picked it off with my fingernail. It was easy. You just pressed your palm against a section of it for a few seconds and then lifted it off in small chunks.
My rectangular view of the world through the window had the roof of the barn below me in the lower left corner. Bare trees above it connected a snow-packed hay fielddotted with a few chicken coups to the other side of the window – the beginnings of the granite quarry, a stone wall and the driveway headed out toward the road.
I watched it all turn to a black and white photo as the fading light stole the color and the snow etched everything in white.
I must have slept well because I woke up still looking out the window. The yard looked like the inside of a snow globe. It had snowed all night and the child-high white cap on the roof of the barn nearly met the snow that had built up against the side that faced the house. The chicken coops were under a protective cover of white, and the driveway and stonewall had disappeared.
I slid on my heels down the built in ladder that was the only staircase downstairs and ran to the kitchen. My two brothers and four sisters were in various stages of undress, filling cereal bowls with Corn Flakes or Cheerios, waiting for someone to be finished with a bowl, and searching for a place to sit and eat.
The Zenith crackled.
“Is there school?”
“No school today.” I don’t even know who said it, but adrenalin rushed though my body at the utterance of our childhood emancipation proclamation.
I ran back upstairs and dressed. Within seconds I was back downstairs pulling on my sneakers.
It was my mother.
“You can’t go out dressed like that.”
Winter days out of school were a certain perfection that only an eight-year-old can understand fully. There was nothing in the world that would keep you from getting outside before it stopped snowing. There was nothing in my mind but the happiness of winter.
I amassed into a pile at my feet the clothing I would need to pass my mother’s inspection.
I pulled on my pair of big pants over the brown corduroys I already had on, dressed my upper body in a T-shirt, a striped long sleeve jersey, a shirt and a hand-made sweater. Now, before trying to put on my coat I would have to deal with my feet. After my coat I wouldn’t be able to reach them. Two pairs of socks, then my sneakers and a pair of brown overshoes that I’m sure had been worn by my father at some time. They were a brownish green rubber and half the metal clasps were gone, but as my father told me, “You only really need the top one and the bottom one.”
I draped my coat over my shoulders, grasped my outermost shirt sleeve with my fingers and wrists, and, like a bird readying for flight, I shove both arms straight out and into the coat sleeves.
“Can someone button me up?” I said to whoever was nearest me.
With a stocking hat and knitted mittens I passed my mother’s inspection.
And my sisters good naturedly laughed as I bolted out the front door and stood waist deep in snow, closed my eyes, and let the wind whip my face with the nor’easter.
Standing in the front yard, a makeshift boy, I had no idea my family was not wealthy. I figured out later in life that we had lived in poverty.
But only recently did I realize just how right I had been as a child and how rich we had been.



  1. Totally agree with your final thoughts John. I appreciate the opportunity you gave me to revisit some of those precious moments. Thank you and Merry Christmas…

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