Learning 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!