I Feel No Shame

We had to go to the butchers shop late in the day. Our butcher knew we would always go there when he was getting ready to close the shop on Saturday because you could find all manner of bargains at the end of the day, especially if you had a dog to feed back home.  But we didn’t have a dog.

And that day, he didn’t have the ox heart that Mum usually bought and I must admit I was a bit relieved because only the week before, I ended up with a mouth full of arteries and they were very rubbery and difficult to chew and if you swallowed one whole it could get stuck from your mouth to your throat and choke you.  And he didn’t have half a sheep’s head because Mrs. Arnold, the Irish woman with the nine kids who claimed she was a Catholic even though she never went to church, bought the last one.  And the pork belly was far too much money for us that day, although the butcher told us that pork crackling is a wonderful thing along with some delicious apple sauce.

And when we got home with the rag end of the mince, which was more suet and sawdust than meat, Mum threw it down on the kitchen table and sat in the chair and wept.  I watched the butchers paper as the purple blood from the minced meat soaked its way through.  I waved the flies away but they kept coming back the way flies do.

I put my arms around her shoulders as best I could and she said, “Oh, Johnny, oh Johnny, oh Johnny,” in between sobs and I didn’t like it when she did that because it made me want to cry too.  And everyone knows, for the love of God, I was the man of the house but I was only nine years old and I just didn’t know how to make money so my Mum could afford pork belly. Or maybe even a chicken, one day.

She cried for her shame at not being able to feed us. And for her shame at pretending we had a dog at home to feed and not to let the butcher know that we were destitute. She cried for the shame of it all. And I cried with her. Tears for our shame.

But I feel no shame today. Because now I know. There is no shame in poverty. There is only shame in those who look down on the poverty of others.


  1. Another powerful piece! I say it over and over because it is true!! I am sure you know Frank McCourt– well, it has the “Wham” of his writing and he had two bestsellers!! I like your writing even better. All the best, Ellen

    • Hi Ellen! I’ve read Angela’s Ashes twice. Also ‘Tis. I am flattered and humbled that you would compare my writing to the great, late Frank McCourt. Take care dear friend. John

  2. Beverly Bandman says:

    John – forgive me for asking, but are these real life things hat you went through? If so, my admiration for you just grew beyond measure. –bev

    • Hello Bev! Yes, actually these are true stories from my childhood growing up in poverty in the slums of Portsmouth, England. My father abandoned us when I was six and my mother was left destitute in a time when there was not much sympathy for such situations. We never saw my father again until later in life. Times were often harrowing but my Mum held things together as best she could. I have written a book about it which will be published in 2013. All the best, John

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