On the Jagged Edge of Life


Gina remembers being hungry a lot as a youngster. It’s something that sticks with a person, that desperation, even years after the hunger has been satiated. Go hungry as a child and that’s what you’ll remember of your childhood, the way you had to scrape for food.

Lots of times the only food in the house was canned goods from the food pantry. God bless those food pantries and the people who contribute to them. Sometimes those bags of groceries are the only thing keeping a child hoping for a better life one day. Otherwise, they might just give up and stop breathing.

The folks who make can foods really ought to make more canned goods with pop-top lids, though. Too many kids having to take care of themselves nowadays. Maybe in the past, too, but who can say when the hunger was greater? During the Depression or during the Opioid Crisis?  (The Washington Post reports that in just one year’s time 1.3 million Americans needed hospital care due to opioid issues.)

Whatever the cause, thousands of kids go neglected right here in the US of A.

Gina was too young to work a can opener. Heck, some adults can’t work a can opener – how they expect a kid to?

So she’d take a knife from the drawer, the sharpest one she could grasp, and she’d grab a can of fruit or beans from the nearly bare cupboards. Then Gina would sit on the kitchen floor, clinch the can of pears or peaches between her knees, and  begin pounding that knife into the lid.

She’d pound and pound on the handle of that knife until she caved an opening into the aluminum lid. She didn’t have the strength to take the jagged lid all the way off. Didn’t need to either. She just needed a wide enough hole to slip those pear halves out. And that would be her supper.  Or her breakfast.

Or both.

When she read The Glass Castle, Gina could picture herself pulling a chair over the stove and cooking herself a hot dog the way the author Jeannette Walls had done – if only Gina could have found a hot dog.

Gina did sometimes fry tortillas. She’d mix the masa with water, pat it into some form and fry herself a tortilla. When it cooled just enough not to burn on touch, she’d shake salt over it. The good thing about masa is that a person could eat their belly full of tortillas.

When the stories of opioid crisis rocking the nation come over the airwaves, it’s not those suffering from the addiction I think about. It’s all the little Ginas out there, working to pry open a can of peaches. Girls and boys too little to know how to work a can opener, but big enough to know that if they can just get a sharp tip of a knife through the lid of the can, they won’t have to go to bed hungry again tonight.

This opioid crisis isn’t just about adults caught up in addictions.

It’s about the all those kids neglected along the way.

Kids clinging to life on the jagged edge.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press, Sept. 2017).


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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