Getting By is Good

imageLearning to do more with less was the best thing that ever happened to me. Growing up on a farm, the second of five children, I learned responsibility, despite my best efforts not to. We were all needed, just to get by. With stock to feed, hay to make, gardens to care for, there weren’t too many idle moments. That was before helping Mother in the house, sharing responsibility for the younger children, gardening, canning and freezing produce, and church and school. School was always welcome. I dreaded seeing the long, hot summer after I got old enough to really help out.

There was never enough money to go around. We sewed for ourselves and younger sisters, from the cache of fabric Grandma sent over the years. It didn’t matter if we liked it or not. We took out turns at the best, making do with the rest, using patterns several times, or cutting copies from other people’s patterns. Mother never threw out a button or zipper, taking old ones out of worn out clothes. No need to purchase needlessly. This was common at the time, saving a good deal of money. Most outfits turned out well-enough, but I do remember a bright-pink newsprint dress when I drew the short straw. Another time I lost out and got fabric with four inch tall lollipops. Neither was my favorite, but I wore them. Phyllis got stuck with a brown print with stage-coaches. Surely those pieces must have been marked down when Grandma grabbed that fabric. A few times Grandma tormented us by sending horrible, out-of-style dresses from Goodwill, but that’s a whole different story. Sometimes they could be remodeled, altered, and updated, sometimes not. I became expert with alterations and remodeling, something they didn’t even teach in home-economics.

Bud and I got married when we had a year of college left. Between us, we made thirteen-hundred dollars that year. I had a loan for my college. He didn’t. We both worked student jobs.

Lots of days, we fished in the afternoons. If we caught fish, we cooked them up for supper. No luck, we had grits and biscuits and gravy or beans and rice. Plain beans and rice, not beans, rice, sausage, and cornbread with a side of slaw.

More often than not, we caught our supper. We made just enough money to pay our rent, seventy-five dollars, and utilities less than fifteen dollars a month, since we only used gas for cooking and heating on the coldest nights of winter. We had no television, air-conditioning, or telephone. Whatever money we had left after paying rent and utilities went for groceries, way less than twenty-five dollars a month. In the unlikely event we had a dollar or two left, we might by some gasoline. It was understood, if our parents wanted us to come visit, they’d have to buy us a little gas to get back home. Two or three dollars would do it. I think they were glad to pay up, just to get us on the road. We’d get home for major holidays.

I never felt poor. I didn’t worry about what would happen if we had a problem, just understood we’d do something. I learned then, that if you had enough to eat, clean water, something to wear, safety and shelter, that’s a blessing. The world is full of people no less deserving than I who struggle for that. If worst came to worst, one of us could get a job long enough for the other to graduate. It was a wonderful time. We’ve never been more carefree or had more fun. It’s good we didn’t have a dog, though. We’d probably have had to eat him!

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37 thoughts on “Getting By is Good

  1. I know what you mean, Linda. Socks were darned, shoes repaired and polished, nothing was thrown out. Everything had a second and third life or use. Kids today wouldn’t know how to manage. Pinching and appreciating the little things, they cannot understand. I’m disappointed even my own daughter–whom I tried to educate–doesn’t get it. ❤ ❤ ❤

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    • My daughter doesn’t. My son does. I think it’s on born. Every week Mother made a regular stop at the shoe shop to drop off shoes for new heels and half-soles. She’d drop them off early hoping to get them in the afternoon.

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  2. While I didn’t grow up on a farm or eat rice and beans, I did grow up poor. But I didn’t know that. We had rice and raisins for Sunday night supper and loved it! I truly didn’t know how little we had until I drove past our old house in Denver. It was so tiny and in a run-down neighborhood. As a child, I thought it was a huge house!

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  3. It’s interesting that you say you were happy and carefree in those days despite not having much in the way of money. My parents have said similar things to me over the years. In many parts of the world, people have more now than ever before, but they don’t always seem to be particularly happy about it. Perhaps, once the essentials have been taken care of, happiness is really not based on possessions, despite what the advertisers of the world would have us believe.

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    • I was happy then and have reached that point again. All the years in between we’re such a struggle and so much hard work. They were satisfying and very necessary, but don’t compare to the pure joy I feel everyday now. When I was younger, I used to pity older people thinking their lives must be limited and dull. You can’t know, life at every stage has wondrous things. All you every have is today.

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      • It’s nice that you’ve reached a point where you feel happy every day. Although I can’t say I’m quite there yet, I absolutely agree about making the most of each day. I don’t want to be the kind of person so busy moping about things I don’t have that I take for granted all the many wonderful things I already do.

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  4. Such wonderful life lessons. Sometimes I think we have lost site of the importance of these simple, basic things in life. I still have a button box! It’s amazing how often I dig it out 🙂

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  5. Those days of struggling to get by is often some of our most precious memories. I enjoyed reading your story and it reminded me of saving all of the buttons and zippers from clothes before they went into the trash.

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  6. Those were the days, though no farm for us , just not a lot of money. Great Gran was a seamstress so we (and our dolls) had matching outfits, whether we liked them or not. I had to wear them ywice as wore my sister’s when she grew out of them. They were good times though, enough to eat, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and we were unlikely to be bored. No telly let alone computers, we played football in the streets, rode second hand bikes, or home made go karts. Nothing was automatic or a given. IMHO, kids today have no sense of value or consideration for others having missed ‘our times’ when each other was sometimes all we had.

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