As I read blogs and self help books, I am always amazed at some of the true Rags to Riches stories that abound.
While I have never earned a huge salary, been unemployed for any long period of time or been even close to homeless, I have not often ever thought of my situation as being POOR.
Except for ONE DAY. Let me tell you about it.
The year was 1984, I had been working as a photographic assistant in an advertising agency in the city.
For a young 20 year old girl who was newly married, it was a glamorous position. It was very “Mad Men” with the ad execs ( both men and women) in suits, champagne lunches and celebrity “talent” often arriving in the office.
One of my duties at this job was relief receptionist to cover the lunch hour. I enjoyed this and was paid a small bonus for the extra work. All was going well, I loved the people and the job…UNTIL… I fell pregnant. Sadly 1984 did not have the equality of workplaces today and I was told that it was “not a good look” to have me in the office 🙁
I did manage to find another job from a friend and I was able to work a couple of days a week while some staff members were on holiday.
My husband was working full time and we actually got along reasonably well on the reduced wages. I had been planning on having to reduce our budget to one wage anyway in preparation for the baby’s arrival.
Hubby had found a new job at a large factory nearby, we had a decent car and very little debt. Things were looking good. 🙂 UNTIL.
One Friday hubby came home and said that the factory he worked for closed down over the Christmas break for 4 weeks!! As he had not been there very long, there would be no wages for that time. A Trip to Social Security to see if we were eligible for any assistance proved fruitless. Because he technically still had a job, we were not able to access any benefits. We knew if he quit that job, the likelihood of getting it back in January was slim at best.
So, together we looked at what we had left and formulated a plan. We would need to cover the 4 weeks of close down plus the one week when he went back to work before the first payday.
We could see we just did not have enough… So we moved from the house we were into a tiny one-bedroom flat, we back traded the car to a “sort of” ok one and we felt we were ok. We now had no debt, I paid rent upfront for the duration of the time we would need. All we needed was food, petrol and utilities money.
For Christmas that year, we asked for baby stuff and cash and we were looking OK. We gave family and friends Christmas gifts that I had bought throughout the year, nobody missed out, and I did not need to break the budget.
We even managed to have a couple of weekends away camping with friends over the Christmas break.
On Friday the 18th of January 1985, the last Friday before hubby was due to go back to work. Hubby filled up the car with petrol so he could get to work for the upcoming week and I went shopping with our last $20.
Keeping a couple of dollars aside for fresh milk and bread through the week, I spent that last few dollars on eggs, cheese, mince, onions, frozen mixed vegetables and some potatoes.
The resulting huge pot of mince, onions and vegies would turn into the following meal plan for that week :
- Savoury Mince on toast x 2
- Add some tomato paste and pasta from the pantry and have (sort of ) spaghetti bolognese x 2
- Add some mashed potato and grated cheese on top and call it shepherds pie x 2
- Add some to roast jacket potatoes
- And for the last night whatever was left over could get a tin of tomatoes and some pasta added and it turned into “minestrone”
We were quite proud of ourselves for managing so well at such a tough time. We had not asked family for any money at all, and I doubt they knew we were as skint as we were.
It was a stinking hot Brisbane day, so after dropping me back at the flat with the shopping, hubby and his friend were going out to Centenary Pool in Brisbane (about 20 minutes away from where we lived on the North side) to have a “play” They have high diving towers that “boys” like jumping off 🙂
I set about preparing the big stock pot with the mince mixture and by the time it was simmering away, I was sitting down watching TV.
The first indication that we may have had a problem that day, was it started raining. Then it rained HARDER, then the wind started. The wind was so ferocious I could see the glass sliding door bowing under the force. Then the hail began. At that point I got scared. 🙁 I was 8 months pregnant, on my own in a TINY flat with nowhere to go that felt safe.
Hubby and his friend had seen the storm coming from the high tower of the pool and had started heading home they made it roughly halfway when they got stuck in the hail. From their accounts, the hail was horizontal as it slammed through the back windscreen and broke the front. They were both huddled under the thick car seat covers of our friend’s car.
When they were able, they tried to make it home and they both said that when they came closer to our suburb they were both really scared for both their wives. It looked like a bomb zone.
When hubby got home, he called out for me as he could not find me. When I heard him, I called out and he found me in a curled-up mess hiding in the bottom of the tiny linen cupboard/broom cupboard in the flat. It had not been a fun afternoon 🙁
Our flat was totally devastated with not one single window left whole. The place was flooded the carpet was ruined, the curtains shredded and our bed was also soaked. When I had a look in the kitchen, that is when it hit me the hardest, my big pot of food for the ENTIRE WEEK had broken glass all through it.
There was no power or phone as the lines were all down. We could not contact anybody to see if they were ok. On the way back from town, Hubby had come through the suburb where my parents lived and said it was very badly damaged there too, but we had no way of knowing if we would be able to go there and the reports we were hearing on the radio in the car suggested we would not be able to get through. The inlaws lived approximately 50kms north and it was getting dark by this stage, so there was not much we could do but put a tarp on the floor to try and stay dry, blow up our camp mattress and attempt to get some sleep.
I remember we had sandwiches for dinner that night.
The next morning we were able to get a look at the damage. What a mess. Still no power. ( it would take a couple of days to come back on) and of course NO FOOD 🙁
This was absolutely the lowest point of my life. I honestly had NO IDEA what we were going to do.
Later that day, our landlord came to see the block of flats ( he owned the whole block) He said we could not stay there and gave us $50 in cash to help out until he could get the glass doors and carpets replaced. He also offered that we would have free rent for the time we were not able to live in the flat.
Not long after the landlord had been, hubby’s Mum came. We packed up what we could and spent the next couple of weeks at her house, before finally returning to a fully renovated flat.
It was quite some time before I could face the thought of making Savoury Mince 🙂
Here are a few news reports from that day