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My Mother's New Economy

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I grew up in the Great Depression. The fact that the actual event happened twenty years before my birth had little to do with the way I was raised. My parents never left the Depression mentality behind. We were raised to “waste not” whether we wanted to or not. In our house, frugality was next to goodliness and excess was not even on the map.

As the youngest of three, I got lots of hand-me-downs. The fact that my sisters were close in age, and my mother dressed them as twins meant that I got sequential hand-me-downs. This was complicated by the fact that I was the shortest of the sisters. All my dresses had deep hems, deep enough to make another outfit. Seemingly, I wore the same dress or skirt for a minimum of five years as I switched from one size of identical dress to another. I remember, in particular, a purple plaid and a wool pleated skirt that never went away. As I got older, my mother sewed stylish “shift” dresses for me. Through careful pattern placement, she was able to get an entire dress out of half a yard of material. I swear this is true. Normally, the dresses pulled across the bust where she ran out of fabric, When she found a pattern that she could easily sew, she made five dreses, all the same style. What my wardrobe lacke in variety, it made up for in monotony.

We never bought shoes without an immediate trip to the shoemaker to put on taps so that we didn't wear down the front of the shoes as we scuffed along the street. The heels were replaced when they wore down, not discarded. If the tops of the shoes were good, the shoes were resoled. To my mother, it was a crime against God to discard clothing just because it was unfashionable.

Food was stretched, but not as a casserole or in salad. My mother was a terrible cook whose version of “gourmet” meant using ketchup as a cooking sauce for pot roast. Leftovers were served again and again until they were gone. This included oatmeal. There is nothing more obnoxious than warmed up oatmeal. Trust me on this. Fruit on the verge of rotting became compote. Vegetables had the bad parts cut away. There were many unidentifiable jars of saved — something — in the refrigerator that simply could not be discarded because there might be a future use for it. When I was born, my mother saved chicken fat. The woman who came to take care of my sisters thought it was a delicacy and spread it on bread. My mother never got over the consumption of that jar of fat. It was a personal affront to her thriftiness that it was eaten while she was in the hospital.

When we bought food, it came with Green Square stamps or Plaid stamps (depending on the supermarket). Toasters, lamps, and other appliances could be purchased with the stamps. When we moved into an identical twin house (that’s a duplex to those of you in the West), my mother used stamps to buy a particularly ugly statue to put in the front window so that I wouldn’t walk into the wrong house.

Our best dishes came from soap boxes and deposits at the bank. We must have done a lot of washing, because we had service for twelve of the popular 1950’s pattern “Fields of Wheat.” We also had matching stainless flatwear. The glasses to go with the set came to us when we filled up the car at the gas station, and that was when gas was $.28 a gallon AND they checked your oil and washed your windows. Ah, for the good old days.

As for gasoline, we had only one car and only my father drove it. The rest of us took public transportation, everywhere. Fortunately, the bus stopped across the street from our house but, by the time I was taking the bus and elevated train to college, it took me an hour and a half to transit the city. Still, bus tokens were a bargain for students and we used them, daily.

I suppose that the one thing that I hated most about my mother’s thriftiness was reusing tea bags. To this day, I can’t bear to make more than one cup from a tea bag. In fact, I now mostly use leaves, more expensive than plain old Tetley but a luxury worth having.

I suppose, in light of the current economic climate, I could learn valuable lessons from my parents’ lifestyle and perhaps we will all have to go back to the days of saved lunch bags and rubber band balls to make ends meet, but with the determination of Scarlet O’Hara,as God is my witness, I will never reuse a tea bag, again. 

After Fifty Living™ was founded by Jo-Anne Lema, a genuine Boomer and member of the 50+ generation. As she likes to say, “Our enormous generation is charting new territory – we’re healthier, better educated, and more financially fit than any other generation at this time. And, as we march through history, 110 million strong – unique, new issues are developing. It’s exciting to be a part of the development and growth of AfterFiftyLiving.com. This is a historic solution for a historic generation.”

Jo-Anne spent many years in the financial and operations side of higher education after having received a doctorate in education management and administration from Harvard, and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. Launching out on her own, though, has been the fulfillment of a life dream. Jo-Anne believes that “AfterFiftyLiving™ will delight its visitors, catalyze its partners, and will significantly benefit those who engage it.”

Residing in New England along with her husband of 35+ years, she never ceases to brag about her two children and 4 grandkids!

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