We were so poor when I was a little girl that I treasured every possession I had. I certainly did not get the number of gifts or toys that children do now. We were poor because my father did not work steadily part of the time and because he spent money on golfing weekends with his brother and with their friends. That meant his wife and children never had much. His play meant he had to have gas money, lunch money, money for greens fees, and he needed money for gambling on the outcome of each hole and the rounds he played.
My mother said that I was the only child she ever knew that never broke a toy. I really never broke anything. I kept my toys clean and neatly stored most of the time. I was the same way with my books. One year, when I was about five or six, I was given a small, perhaps ten inches high, pink wringer washing machine. I could agitate the doll clothes I put in it with a lever on the side. The wringer rollers also turned in a separate lever, so I could wring the water out. I then dried the doll clothes on a hanger.
I loved that toy. I love doing laundry to this day, and as I sit here, I wonder if having that little washing machine is partly responsible for loving that household task. It is a pleasant association, for sure.
It might have been that same year that I was given a miniature version of a wicker laundry basket. I still have it. Except for a little damage where a kitten I had as an adult chewed a spot on it, the basket is in perfect condition. I use it as my mending basket. I suppose in the modern world, the idea of mending seems outdated. People toss things.
I have had to work very hard for what I have, working two jobs or the equivalent of two jobs my entire working life, so I have carried that idea of preserving, mending, and not breaking things into my adult life. I take after my grandma Lena, who made clothes for herself out of chicken feed sacks, printed with floral and geometric patterns for farm women to use for making clothes, tablecloths, dishtowels, and much more. I have no clothing made of chicken feed sacks, but I do have nice clothes; I mend things, if they need a button or have a hem that gives out — or more.
I have clothing that I have worn for more than 20 years. I wear things until they are in tatters here at home, in my house and garden. It makes sense to me to make a dollar go as far as it can go. I will never run out of clothing, even if I never buy another garment.
That “good girl” that I was with my toys runs deep with me. I heard what my mother said, and she said it as a matter of pride about me to others. I needed that praise, since it so seldom came, so I probably took greater care of my things even after that to please my mother, though I rarely heard her say that. I did hope she would notice.
I have nice furniture that I also take excellent care of. I did learn the value of not buying cheap furniture or cheap anything, so these things would last. I can have a chair or sofa reupholstered with less expense than I can to get a new sofa. I bought Amish made upholstered furniture, so I can do just that. It was two to three times more expensive than a $500 dollar sofa that would be broken down in a few years, but it has a lifetime guarantee on it, for everything but the fabric. It was worth it to spend extra money for quality things that can be redone, instead of going to the landfill.
It is a buy, use up, and toss-out world. We do not respect the environment that way, or value the goods we have. It is a wasteful habit to live that way. It damages our planet and it damages our character. I respect people who are frugal and take care of their things and who try to live in a small carbon footprint.
I still feel the pangs of a very deprived childhood, but it did teach me to value what I have and take care of it, just as I did when I did not have much. Maybe there’s a lesson there for others that they can emulate and pass on to their children. Some deprivation, I have often said, can lead to development of character and to being able to succeed in life. Adversity can make us strong — and frugal. I know it has had that effect for me.