autumn colors

Growing Up Poor

Fiction by
Xavier F. Aguilar

About the Author

In Autumn’s Grace

Growing Up Poor


More echapbooks
by X.F. Aguilar:

Garment of Flesh
Like Running Water
From My Father’s House



It was that Autumn of 1959 when I was given a two wheel bicycle just because I wanted one. It was metallic green with white handle-grips and matching mud flaps. When the morning sunlight pressed against the chrome it lit up like the embodiment of joy. It was that collection of metal and rubber which opened a new world for me. A time of adventure, of learning, of new friends and enemies.

A fine rain began on Saturday morning as I made ready for a trip with a few neighbor friends. The weekend past we had gathered soda bottles from the alley trash cans and returned them for deposit; we worked together and bought a nice bag of candy for our ride. We had balloons too. We would inflate these and tie them to our bikes as decoration.

My dad had made root-beer and sealed it in pint Mason jars my mom usually used to can vegetables from our garden. He let us take a few as long as we promised to be extra careful with the glass; the store bought Dad’s Root Beer was tastier but cost. It was around nine in the morning when we finally began our trek . . . the five of us went single file along the berm of the road. With potato sacks tied to the handlebars we carried our candy and soda.

Four boys and a girl. Roxy was a tomboy; the fact was that she liked to play baseball, tackle football and pal with us guys. A lot of the kids made fun of her and said mean things to hurt her, but, Roxy was tough and she stayed where she wanted to be. She always said that we were her true friends.


It was noon when we reached the bank of the Monongahela river and the drizzle had stopped. We removed our sacks and lay our bikes down because the ground was too soft for kick stands. Opening a couple drinks we divided the penny candy in fair shares; never were we ones to bicker about sharing as we saw others do. Our lack of money kept us close.

When a tug boat passed with it’s barge heaped with coal the river rippled and waves rolled toward us one after another. The white foamy heads tried to pass over the land and touch our feet but didn’t. “When I get older I’m going to work on the boats,” stated Freddie as he looked toward the tug.

The rest of us just looked at each other and smiled. There wasn’t a week that went by when Freddie didn’t want to be something new. I liked him more than the others because he had vision while most only saw as far as their comfort. “Yeah, Freddie, maybe you will,” I supported his thought.

With Donora and home only a memory we sat on the damp earth and traded stories about the past week in school. We talked about the time in gym class when Eric brought a can of shaving cream and filled Pete’s shoes with it. After class Pete changed from tennis shoes to street wear and got a big surprise! Everyone in the locker room laughed; even Pete. That was a special day in our lives and we didn’t even know it.

We were making the best of the time and the place. The talk moved to Halloween that was not far off; a couple of weeks. For two hours we all were impressed by each other’s tale of scary events. Dark clouds began to gather a mid-afternoon and we decided to go home. We all took turns brushing mud off the seat of each other’s jeans and then we were again riding our bicycles. With a storm-front rising we raced toward our hometown.


One week before the Halloween parade Len broke his leg when he stepped too close to the edge of the stone quarry and fell down some forty feet. My dad said he could have done worse. I remember his mother screaming at him, “You could have killed yourself!” Len looked to enjoy an extended vacation and the attention.

Len was big for his age and muscular; there was no dare that he would not take. I believed that his dad resented his son being bigger than himself and it was the only reason I could come up with that explained why he would beat on Len every time he got drunk. At least once a month Len felt his father’s tough love while listening to, “I’ll teach you to be a man.”

Roxy walked over to Len and said, “we’re going to miss you at school.” She leaned her face close to his and gave him a big smooch on the cheek, she added, “Now don’t go falling off the bed.” She smiled at him. It’s peculiar how we often think our lives are so prosaic and we just say, “I’ll see you tomorrow”, not ever thinking that you may have just spoken to each other for the very last time.

A lot of things changed that year. Our large friend with the broken leg never did return to school. My mother said that his family just pulled up roots and moved to the mid-west. I began writing short-stories for magazines and Roxy started wearing dresses. Freddie and Eric put on some weight. We talked about the fun we had with Len, but, that faded when we accepted he was gone.

A new family moved into the neighborhood that year. They lived four houses to the south and closer to the railroad crossing where the train whistle sounded every twenty minutes. Too many families had come and gone because of the shrill noise. They stayed and new friendships were formed.

If we were poor in the fall of 1959, I never knew it.


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© 2012 Xavier F. Aguilar