The ‘hole’ birthday story

My mom has always been a big fan of newspapers.

And no, it’s not just because her baby boy happens to work for one.

My mother has always used the newspaper as her primary news source. She’s never been a big fan of television and the Internet came along a little late in her life for it to be a viable news source for her. Of course, in her younger days, newspapers also served a far more utilitarian purpose that went beyond reading them.

Newspapers kept her feet from hitting the pavement in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore, Md.

My mother was born in the not-so sweet spot in between the Great Depression and World War II. Like so many Americans growing up in that time, she didn’t have many materials goods or luxuries. So poor was her family — she had four siblings — that they would have to wear their shoes until holes were worn all the through the soles.

And then, when the soles were worn all the way through, they would put old newspapers in the bottoms to keep their feet from touching the ground. I’m guessing there are millions growing up during that time who had similar stories … but none of them were my mother.

My mother was never ashamed of her upbringing. In fact, if anything, she was incredibly proud of the fact both she and my father — who grew up under similar conditions as one of nine children in Boise, Idaho — were able to rise above their stations in life, both go to college and make a comfortable life for their own children.

Growing up, she would frequently tell us tales of growing up in a house that may have been short on material extravagances, but was always long on love. She would tell us about how she would scrub the marble steps along Baltimore’s row houses for extra spending money. We heard about how one of the greatest Christmases she can remember was the one where she received a basketball. I’m guessing it was so special for her because she received a gift at all.

And, more than anything, I remember her constantly telling me the stories of stuffing newspapers in the bottoms of her shoes when the sole wore through.

I always listened to her stories, but living in a middle-class home in the suburbs, I guess I probably never could really relate. That’s because my parents made sure their kids never wanted for anything — even if they had to continue sacrificing themselves. While we may have been comfortable growing up, we certainly weren’t rich.

But I didn’t realize that at the time, because my parents were giving up things they wanted to make sure their kids had the things they wanted. They spent their entire adult lives driving cars well past the 200,000-mile mark, wearing clothes that were hopelessly out of date and rarely spending money on themselves. Their greatest joy was giving to their children, even if it came at their own expense.

I don’t think I appreciated that nearly enough as a child or teenager, but now that I’m an adult with children of my own, I get it. I say a little prayer every time I get behind the wheel of my vehicle, hoping it will make it to its next destination without the help of a tow truck. My clothes could definitely use an update. I gave up on having the latest video game system — a former passion of mine — more than a decade ago. And I’m OK with all of that.

I looked down at the bottom of my tennis shoe the other day and noticed there’s a hole worn nearly all the way through the bottom. I could get new ones, I suppose, but I think I’d rather spend the money on new shoes for my kids. And besides, I know where I can get a discount on newspapers to stuff in the bottom.

Earlier this week, my mother turned 80 years old. I am ashamed of the fact it’s only been in the latter part of her life that I’ve come to realize how much she sacrificed for me growing up. I wish I could go back and thank her and my late father for always putting myself and my siblings first. I wish I had been a little more appreciative when my mom was buying me the latest pair of Air Jordans — while wearing the same sweater she’d been wearing for a decade.

I don’t know how much longer she has, but I think I’ll make a better effort to thank her for all she’s done and appreciate the time I have left with her.

Happy birthday, mom … I’ll bring you some newspapers for your birthday.


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By David Fong Guest columnist David Fong Guest columnist

David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at; follow him on Twitter @ thefong.