August 21, 2013 Edition

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The art of thriftiness is true gift

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

One of the things I am most grateful for is that my mother taught me the skill of being thrifty. Being a child of the depression, she learned the art of making do from some truly world-class frugal women.

Growing up in a rural town held many benefits in the depression ridden 1930s. Mother's family had a place to raise livestock and a garden. There was always milk, eggs, cheese, and in the summer fresh vegetables to grace the table at supper. These were also good commodities for bartering. A dozen eggs could be traded for those things that couldn't be grown or made.

My grandfather came to America from Greece in the first decade of the 20th century and raising goats for milk, cheese and meat was just a way of life. Chickens rid the garden of pests, provided meat and eggs and were living alarm clocks giving rousing wake up calls for the whole family.

The depression years were tough but by 1941 the United States had entered World War II and even if you had some money there were some things you still couldn't buy. By then my mother was entering adulthood and had left rural life for the big city. Thankfully she had already become adept at making a little go a long way because now there was this new restriction on day to day life called rationing.

Not everything was rationed but at the top of the list was gasoline and rubber. The war effort required as much rubber as it could get and if anyone had more than five tires they were confiscated by the government. Rural living for a single young female became less appealing and city living with public transportation and jobs became more inviting.

I recently came across my mother's ration book and noticed there were still sugar stamps in it. Sugar was one of the first food items to be rationed. Mom gathered recipes for honey and sorghum sweetened breads, cakes and pies. She used these sweeteners instead of sugar. Her philosophy was, there is always a way, you just have to be willing to use what you have not what you want.

I'm also grateful she taught me how to stock my kitchen with good healthy food at the cheapest prices. This made a difference for our family of eight.

My mom's mantra was, "never ever throw anything away that is still useful." A handleless skillet became a new baking pan, a cracked cup became a pen holder or a planter. Any dish that was still in one piece was usable even if it had to be repurposed (she was hip before her time). If it was chipped you just turned it to the other side. "It still works," she'd always say. "Why spend money on something you already have?"

I learned that something new is used the minute it's bought. So, no new cars, furniture or houses for me. Even most of my clothes were owned by someone else first. I'll let others have the pleasure of being the first to wear it and I'll have the pleasure of wearing it out.

I can't say that I am as frugal as my mother was, but I have learned how to make what I have work for what I need. I have also learned that the simple things in life will bring contentment at days end. I love my books, art and handicrafts but a grandchild's drawing tacked to the refrigerator or a handpicked bouquet stuck in a fruit jar works just as well.

No, I don't have much money but I do my best to make my life pleasant without the need for a fat bank account. I live in a tiny house, own a 30-year-old car and enjoy what I have. My mom taught me well.

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