RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Time now for StoryCorps, the project that's recording everyday Americans telling their stories.
Today, how one mother made ends meet during the holidays. When Carrie Conley's husband left in the early 1960s, she started rising six children on her own. She took a job at a hospital, delivering meals to patients, what was called then a tray girl. Here Carrie Conley and her youngest son, Jerry Johnson, remember that time.
Ms. CARRIE CONLEY: When he left, I just said, Lord, what am I going to do with all of these kids by myself? And I just had a small amount of money for food. Of course everything had to come out of the small check that I was getting.
Mr. JERRY JOHNSON (Son): How did you get by?
Ms. CONLEY: Well, neck bones were 10 cents a pound, and I would go to the store and I'd get 10 pounds. I'd buy lima beans, black-eyed peas - something to boil for every day in the week. So one of my sons (unintelligible) he didn't eat black-eyed peas because (unintelligible)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOHNSON: Well, I certainly don't remember ever being hungry. And you know, we always loved Christmas. And I cannot remember one Christmas that I didn't feel like I was the luckiest kid in the world, even though now I realize we had hardly anything in terms of money.
How did you hold that together?
Ms. CONLEY: Well, you know, we got one sick day a month. And if was sick, I would still go to work. I was saving those days for Christmas. And at Christmastime, then they would pay me for those days. And you know, around the first of December all the rich people, they would clear their children's toy chests. And they would take all these nice toys to the Salvation Army.
And I would go there and I would get me a huge box and I would go around and pick out nice toys. And I would get that for a couple of dollars. And then I would use the other for fruit and for food. And so it seemed like we had a big Christmas. But I never did tell you it was Santa Claus because I said that I cannot give no man credit for (unintelligible)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOHNSON: I know I speak for the rest of the kids who aren't here in telling you how much we love you and how much we appreciate the sacrifice that you went through, and the guidance and leadership that you're teaching us. And I think it's helping us all be better parents.
Ms. CONLEY: You know, my whole heart was my kids. And the Lord blessed all of them. And I'm so grateful.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: Carrie Conley, with her son Jerry Johnson in Detroit.
Their interview will be archived along with all the others at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Find more of these stories in a new StoryCorps book, "Listening is an Act of Love," and at npr.org.
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