By Patricia Smiley
My television is a Sony Trinitron, carbon dated 1984. It still works even though it’s so bulky there is a perception that I have a Hummer parked in my office. I don’t have a DVD player. I probably wouldn’t know how to hook it up and besides, it seems like a waste of money for something I would rarely use. I like to watch movies in a theater.
My hair dryer is prehistoric. I’ve dropped it a few times and eventually became concerned that the duct tape holding it together might be flammable. So I bought a new dryer but kept the old one…you know…in case I need a spare for houseguests.
I returned hangers to the dry cleaners long before it was fashionable, and I once asked the manager of my local supermarket if I could recycle my egg cartons. He told me no, all the time staring at me as if he was mentally measuring me for a straight jacket.
It’s not that I’m cheap—well, maybe a little—it’s just that I was raised by parents who survived the Great Depression and World War II and who imbued me with a “Want Less, Waste Less” philosophy of life.
When I was a child, everybody conserved resources in my neighborhood. Women collected bacon grease in old Crisco cans. My mother reused aluminum foil and my father saved the rubber bands that molded our daily newspaper into a log-like roll. Jelly jars became drinking glasses, and flour sacks morphed into dishtowels and pillowcases. Add a little embroidery and voila! Everybody's a household fashionista.
On Saturday, I sat down with my mother to discuss her experiences during the Great Depression. She told me her family didn’t suffer any hardships. In fact, she has fond memories of that time. I reminded her that she was already poor, so she may not have felt the same loss that others did.
“I guess,” she said, “but nobody complained back then. Not like now, people whining about every little thing.”
At the time of the stock market crash, my mother was a child living with her family on a leased 80-acre farm where her parents raised chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs. They sold everything but the eggs, which my grandmother traded for needed items, including ten dozen per month for my mother’s piano lessons. Twice a week, the man who owned Tweeds Rolling Grocery van came by the house and swapped food for eggs.
A friend of the family, who sold bakery goods door-to-door, scheduled my grandmother’s house as his last stop, because she cooked dinner for him in exchange for sweet rolls.
My grandparent’s bank did not go belly-up, but it wouldn’t have impacted them much if it had, because they didn’t keep a lot of money in the account. I asked my mother what else she remembered from that time.
“Dad had a grinder,” she said. “He ground grain for all the neighbors who couldn’t afford one of their own.”
“How much did he charge?” I said.
She shot me an incredulous stare. “Nothing. They were our neighbors.”
As we seem to be slipping into another Great Depression, I asked myself if I would be willing to grind wheat for my neighbor, especially the one who has never once invited me to one of his swimming pool parties. Okay, so maybe I would, but only if he agreed to keep his yappy little dog from barking all night.
Just in case we don’t pull out of this economic slump in the near future, does anybody have a grain grinder they want to barter? I’d be willing to trade it for a used hair dryer and a couple of empty egg cartons. Will a vintage TV sweeten the deal?