To set the background: Mardi jo Link lives on a sort-of farm in Northern Michigan with her three sons. I say sort-of farm because she has horses and a veggie garden. (Horses! Do you know how expensive horses are to have?!) She has 6 acres, which sure… that can qualify as a small farm but it’s really more like backyard homesteading.
Mardi has her “dream life” with her horses,kids,and husband and then, the husband isn’t so dreamy and they get divorced. This is the basis of the entire memoir : Divorced,single mother,broke, raising 3 kids on a farm by herself. Not a unique story. It’s one that comes through my inbox a few times a week from readers of this blog. I probably compared way too much to those personal stories because I kept thinking, “This lady doesn’t have it so bad.” I mean, there are people who only contact me through email because they can’t leave any trace of themselves online for fear of their ex-abuser tracking their activity and somehow finding them. Some of them are living in shelters. Even without the domestic violence element, there are a LOT of newly single mamas struggling to get through. So, Mardi jo isn’t alone,no, but I appreciate there being a narrative out there like hers that explains this reality.
But Mardi Jo has some advantages. She has a $300,000 house with property to grow food and keep animals. Her ex husband rents a house across the street, so although it’s not mentioned, I’m assuming he’s available to co-parent and lend that support. Her boys are all in school so she doesn’t need daycare. She has a vehicle. Her ex actually pays the child support he’s ordered to pay her.
The disadvantage is that since she stubbornly refused to sell the farm, she had to be responsible for the mortgage while her only real source of income is an editing job and the child support. In Internet land, we poor people would be told this is a stupid choice.
(And STILL with the horses! At least in the beginning…)
Just read any thread online where a poor person is telling what it’s like to be poor and house downsizing is always given as one of those “helpful pointers”. One of the readers of this blog was even told once that she should build a shed and rent out her double wide trailer.
And I truly understand Mardi jo’s desire to keep the house. Having the land gives the opportunity to be self-sufficient, which is money in the bank, so to speak.
She was raised like I was: You DO NOT ask for help. That’s a sign of weakness. On this point,I can relate. She refuses to apply for assistance because that’s not what “her people” do. Yeah, I was like that once and literally could have starved because of it . It was SO frustrating for me to hear that credo repeated over and over again ,while she and her boys were hungry.
But FINALLY, she at least applies for free school lunch, even though she’s mortified at being judged by the school.
Of that experience, Mardi jo said this in an interview:
“Yeah, I was pretty resolute that I would never ask for government assistance. Not that I’m against that; I know that there are people who need it. But I always had this idea that that was for other people. I was educated. I had been raised in an intact family. I’d had advantages that other people probably didn’t, so I certainly didn’t think that I should take advantage of any public assistance. And yet nine months into that year, I had signed my kids up for reduced lunches at school. That was a line that I thought I would never cross. I think the only reason I did was that it wasn’t for me, it was for them; it was important that they have a nutritional meal every day. It was temporary, only March and April, but it was pretty hard to step over that line. It made me realize things would have to change pretty soon or we would have to sell or just let it go to the bank.”
She mentions her advantages there in that interview but all through the book, I kept waiting for that acknowledgment. There was gratitude and feeling blessed for her sons and when something good happened. I probably would have been less irritated consistently if there had been more of that.
The parts I was least inclined to be irritated: any and all gardening talk, DIY stuff, and chickens (even though…who orders chickens through mail order and expects to get full grown chickens?). She has one horribly heartbreaking food loss that I could relate to. During a power outage, she lost most of an entire butchered pig because the freezer wasn’t on. ( For me, it was because I couldn’t pay the electric bill nor buy ice to keep the food until it was turned back on). Losing food when you have no grocery money is one of the worst things.
I was thoroughly prepared to hate this memoir based on the title alone. Oh, the myth of the bootstrapper …hard working people who pull themselves out of poverty all on their own because they tried hard enough and wanted it bad enough. So,maybe I went into this with some presumptions and ready to be overly critical. While I ended up not hating this as much as I thought I would, it wasn’t my favorite “getting through the struggle and ending up ok” memoir.
Also, in the end…she met a man and didn’t have to worry so much anymore, anyway. Yay for happy endings.