Sunday, January 31, 2010

When money was scarce

Cecil and Annette Carpenter
How people handle money hasn’t changed much since 1946 when my mother and father relocated to Starkville, MS, or has it? Their first day there, before they had even found a place to park the little travel trailer they had bought, my father went to register at Mississippi State College, the state’s land grant college that is now Mississippi State University. Lodging was in short supply and Miss Julia, the registrar, offered to let the couple park in her pecan grove. Eventually four World War II veterans and their wives were housed in the pecan grove.

The guys were going to State on the G.I. Bill, and all four couples were surviving on limited funds. Although all became friends and good neighbors, they fell into two groups as far as their money-management methods. My parents were in the “cash only” category. They were frugal and made their monthly allotment cover their expenditures till the next check came in. I grew up on stories about how Mother would split one little can of Vienna sausages to have meat for two meals. Daddy also tilled a little plot near their trailer and planted mustard greens, a prolific cold-weather veggie. Mother was pregnant with me, and the only other “cash only” couple escorted her on her walks: one of the many no-cost entertainment strategies the two couples shared.

Then there was the “live-high-when-the-check-comes-in” approach. At the extreme were Adam and Eve (not their real names!). Within a week they would spend their check on steak dinners, fresh oysters and other luxuries. For the other three weeks they charged milk and pound cake, and that is what they lived on. When the next check came, they started the cycle again. They paid what they owed the grocery store, spent the rest on pricier meals then charged for the rest of the month.

My parents never went hungry, and Mother was creative in achieving a fairly well-balanced diet. The challenges and laughter they shared with the other three couples in that pecan grove created treasured memories that my mother still enjoys sharing with me. At the end of the semester, my father was offered a position with the U.S Post Office, and the Carpenters moved to Hattiesburg, MS. The need to split that can of Vienna sausage diminished, but frugality, planning balanced meals, and creating fun that involved little or no cost continued through my growing up years. I am thankful my brother and I were exposed to our parents’ perspective on spending, saving, sharing and having fun.

Here is my question: Is there anyone out there today who would make a can of Vienna sausage last two meals rather than pull out a credit card? Believe it or not, I found someone who did just that -- the editor of Cheap Eats blog, although it was for the purpose of reviewing what he called “earthquake” food. For us here in coastal Mississippi it would be hurricane food.

Here’s another question: Would any college student today share a single bathroom on a back porch with eight other people like those WWII veterans and their wives did, traipsing through the pecan grove regardless of rain or cold?

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I enjoyed this post very much. We could all take a lesson or two about splittng a can of vienna sausages...we will probably be doing that in the future!