When I sit at the table.
Ruby Payne talks about the language of poverty in her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. In Vinehart Farm, my character Eva Blanchard has grown up with parents who are subsistence farmers. Poverty has left its mark on this young woman, in how she chooses her clothes, in what she eats, to how she manages her money. Family and food are central in her life. Eva is very smart, and yet she chooses not to go to college. She decides to be self-educated in order to stay out of debt. Her decision adds quite a bit of tension to her relationships.
I really like Eva. She is kind and bright and strong-willed. She maneuvers easily between the language of home and the language of the middle class. I too have learned to maneuver. I remember coming home from college that first semester not knowing what to talk about with the friends I left behind. But I figured it out. Two languages. Along with French and English, that made me tri-lingual.
Every now and then my roots in poverty slip out, and most often they slip out at the table. At every meal, the fight or flight part of my brain asks, “Is there enough? Is there enough for everybody?” Of course there is; there’s no need for this question any more. But it’s there, embedded, and I am unable to separate myself from it. I don’t think you can walk your brain and body out of poverty. It comes with you as you adapt to a better life. It sneaks up on you as you choose the most expensive brand of organic soap because you can or order dessert in a restaurant when you are really not hungry.
So when Eva makes her decisions in Vinehart Farm, she’s making them from a place I know about. The hard part for me is slipping back into my old skin and remembering what I need to remember to make my book genuine. I am not Eva. She is kinder and braver than I am, and she and her circumstances are different from mine in many other ways. Still, I understand her psyche. If you read Vinehart Farm and don’t get it, read Ruby Payne and then read my novel again. It will make a lot more sense.