By Essence B. Scott
The experience with homelessness I remember most clearly was when my family lived in the Trails End Motel when I was eight and a half, almost nine, years old.
Imagine: You are in the middle of nowhere, on the side of the highway. A few minutes up was a diner. Nothing in the way of grocery stores or laundromats. New Jersey Transit didn’t serve this area of New Jersey we were in, so getting into Trenton, where we were from, was difficult. The only way we could get to Trenton was by taking a cab, and that was pricey: $60 for four people.
When we were homeless, people were kind, which made the experience less painful.
My room mother from my elementary school came to the motel my family was staying in and gave us toys. Things had gone wrong with the money my mom had saved up that Christmas. It was our first Christmas in a place not quite a home, and we weren’t expecting to have anything. This mother and her daughter, who was one of my friends, came at night and bought us all these toys. I will never forget that. I think that’s the kindest thing anyone has ever done for my family.
My school nurse gave us gift certificates, which we used at the diner up the street.
We ate at that diner every time we got a certificate and we would order breakfast: pancakes mostly, but anything was a break from the canned goods we ate daily. The diner was small, but everyone there was really nice.
While homelessness is clearly nothing that should be celebrated, I remember my mom had made the experience a little less hard on my siblings and me.
We couldn’t do much because we were in the middle of nowhere. But the memories I do have are of my mom working hard at being a cleaning lady, of visiting one woman who also lived in the motel, of playing with the occasional child who lived there, the people on the outside who would help us.
I was never abused or neglected, and living in a motel is not something I am eager to experience again, but I remember my mom who was always trying to make it a little better for us.
Getting our own apartment after that was like stepping into an air-conditioned room in the middle of August.
We could have meals like meatloaf or meatballs. We could have ice cream. We could have cereal and soda and whatever else we wanted because we finally had a refrigerator. We had our own beds. We had cable — lots of channels, most I’d never heard of. Soap Network? HBO Family? An East and a West channel, meaning I could watch the same show twice?
All of this was so strange, so surreal. But I loved it. Finally, a bed to myself! More space! What could be better than that?