In 2014, I watched a video about my hometown of Sambro, Nova Scotia, Canada.
The gentleman who created the film lived across the street from me. In the video, he looked down from the roof of his house to my home.
I looked at the tiny house I grew up in. It had four rooms. There was a bedroom for my two brothers and me. We had a tiny living room, a smaller kitchen and our parent’s bedroom. Out back was another house. It was very small. It was our outhouse. It was where we had to go to do our business in all seasons. Winter was brutal …the seat freezing cold.
I continued to stare at the video, realized how poor we were, and wanted to cry.
How did my mum live like this? How did she raise us in such poverty?
I know very well; my uncles and grandfather helped. They were fishermen. They gave us a constant supply of fresh fish. I remember this and am grateful for their generosity.
In the spring, the fishermen caught mackerel. The small boats tied up, side-by-side, at the wharf, and waited for their turn to unload their catch.
I was ten years old. The workers traded jokes and worked around me.
Mackerel were lifted from the boats and hauled into the plant. They were split for salting. The heads and insides were tossed into crates to be dragged out to sea and disposed of.
In the spring, the female mackerel were full of eggs – roe – like caviar. They had two sacks of eggs. They were about six inches long and an inch around. The workers pulled the crates out onto the wharf, where I waited. As soon as they turned away, I dug into the bloody mess and found the roe. Slowly, I filled my empty bread bag.
“Look what I got, Mum?” I proudly displayed my treasure, when I arrived home.
“Can we have them tonight?” My arms were coated in blood up to my elbows.
“Oh, Michael! Thank you!” Mum took the bag from me. “We sure can.”
Dinner was a success.
I think back at those times and realize, I basically rooted through garbage to help feed my family.
When I worked in New York and New Jersey, I often saw people looking through garbage for food. I looked down on them. How could they stoop so low?
Then I remembered diving into a box of fish guts for food.
The memory will help me to never judge someone going through a dumpster for food again.
I did it.
Michael T. Smith
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