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My grandfather was 14 years old in Geneva, NY. The Upstate New York winter was at its peak; snow that blinds you, winds that stab more than nip, and iced over sidewalks that have you shuffling for traction.

The dinner that evening consisted of the usual beans or pasta. With 10 mouths to feed, the only food they knew was food they could stretch. For the family to have $25 for groceries was a blessing. My great-grandmother would head out with cash in hand and come home with only the necessities. There was no option for variety - in fact, there was no choice. It had to last.

My grandfather would skip this dinner and the meals for the next couple days. He went out and braved the storm in the skimpy torn clothes he had.

“My brothers and I would wear the same clothes everyday and my mother would wash them every night.”

I’m not sure what he wore out in that storm, but I know it wasn’t enough. Still, he grabbed a shovel and started knocking on doors offering to clear off their driveway. He couldn’t name a price, he just took what he could get.

“Nick, I shoveled for four days straight.”

He came home for sleep and the little warmth inside the house each night. When the sun rose he rose with it to do the same thing again. Trudging through the snow in his sneakers, toes frozen, while the storm refused to lighten, pounding down on the only soul brave enough to fight it.

When the storm ceased he came away with $32. It went straight to his mother. It was enough for another week of groceries.


My grandparents had my mother when they were 20 years old; she is one of four children.