A while ago I met a childhood friend who became a very successful professional. “You know,” she confided, “I still feel wasteful when I write a letter and only use one side of the paper.” We both laughed, but I understood her meaning exactly — it was the simple philosophy of “waste not, want not,” which our parents instilled in us.
We were the children of the Great Depression. We grew up in Central Islip, where there were two working parents before it was in vogue. Money was spent very carefully. There was no fad-buying status symbol or “in” things destined to be popular for the moment. Money was spent on items expected to last. We had to take care of possessions and prolong usefulness. We learned how to “make a little go a long way.”
Today’s younger generations could benefit from our “make do” practices. The tricks still work.
For example, Mom would buy whole chickens and use all of the parts. She made chicken dinner, chopped liver, used parts for soup stock. Leftover pieces were used for salad and sandwiches or added to sauces.
Inexpensive pieces of chuck beef were ground into hamburger meat, made into stew or pot roast and soup stock. Leftover carrots, onions, pieces of celery, etc., were called “soup greens” at home and sold by thrifty vegetable managers in the market.
Stale bread made stuffing. breadcrumbs or bread pudding. Women who didn’t work outside the home worked very hard at home. In addition to general housekeeping, laundry and cooking, they preserved fruits and vegetables, made jams and jellies, tended gardens, and often sewed the family’s clothes.
Old shoes became “play shoes,” and “good ones” were worn to school and church and on special occasions. The local shoemaker kept them going.
We did not know about electronic or battery-operated games and toys. There wasn’t any Little League, either. We all played sandlot ball when enough kids showed up who owned balls, bats or mitts. We organized ourselves for other games like Kick the Can or Ring-a-levio.
The local kid who owned a new balloon-tired bike was the celebrity for a day. Most of us got secondhand bikes, which we proudly maintained. In that sexist society, even girls knew how to adjust handlebars, fix a greasy chain and find and patch punctures in tires and inner tubes.
Credit cards and charge accounts were unknown in our lives. We were told, “If you don’t have the money to pay for it, you can’t afford it.” Occasionally parents would extend themselves for a major item such as a sewing machine, which was paid for “on time.” This meant they paid a few dollars a week until they owned the item. Life insurance was paid for — about $2 a month — and the agent came to collect it.
In my opinion, young people struggling with today’s high expenses need to learn the strategies our parents taught us. Society is concerned with stress in marriage and high divorce rates. Would some of the strain be lessened if money went further in these days of conspicuous consumption?
We Great Depression babies have to cope with today’s inflation, too. Our early training is still part of us and helps us survive. It may seem like we were economically deprived children. If we were, we really didn’t know it. Using today’s jargon, I would say instead that we were culturally enriched.