The other day, an email arrived from a Korean War veteran who started by saying, “I suppose someone else will get this, add me to your fan club and you will never hear a word of it. But here it goes anyway.”
He was writing to comment on a column I had written on how the Great Depression had affected my parents and how, in turn, they taught me the lessons they learned.
I do use a bank a whole lot more than my Daddy. When he was 9, he lost 50 cents when a bank closed and he never got over it. Daddy’s trust was hard to win and easy to lose.
He dug holes and buried money and used a safe-deposit box at the bank to keep enough money to see his family through a couple of years should the banks fail again and another Depression come.
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The writer shared similar stories of growing up in the Depression, recalling the time when his family of eight could not come up with 75 cents to pay a bill collector. “You have no idea how hard it is to throw away anything or waste food to this day.”
Yes, I do.
He ended by saying he reads only me on a regular basis and that he hopes I am really the person I project. I’m afraid I am.
I say it that way because recently it has occurred to me I’m just too extreme in how I save and manage and refuse to throw away.
My husband, as I have told you, has OCD. I often opine that I never knew anyone who had OCD because poor people can’t afford it — it costs too much in water, paper towels and soap.
This is no joke: When we married and he moved into the house I had built a few years earlier, our water bill doubled. The cost of paper towels and soap have quadrupled.
I might as well share this story that speaks to my frugality. It was Thanksgiving and I was getting ready to cook. I realized I needed Crisco and because we live out in the country, I had two choices: Dollar General (a store getting rich serving rural America) and a small independent grocery store.
“We need dog food and a small can of Crisco,” I said to Dexter, who helps us around the house a couple afternoons a week. “Go to the grocery store and get the Crisco. It should be cheaper there but get the dog food at Dollar General because it will be cheaper there.”
These two stores are close enough to run a touchdown from one parking lot to the other. When he returned, I asked how much the Crisco was.
I stopped in the kitchen and looked at him quizzically. “I could buy a big can for that at the grocery store. I wonder if it was cheaper at Dollar General.”
Dexter knows me. He knows to find these things out so he said, “Yep, it sure is. It’s $2.50 there because I checked. But you told me to go to the grocery first so I had already bought it.”
I tried to overcome it. I tried to bat down the worry rising inside me that I had just thrown away a dollar and half. Had I been able to do it, it would have been a big moment in my life. But I suppose once poverty has threatened to strangle the breath from the body of your family, it’s just not easy. Maybe not even possible.
“Take it back,” I said. “I just can’t do it. Return it, then buy it at DG.” He smiled, picked up the can and walked out the door, leaving me to wonder if I’m badly damaged or remarkably smart.
It’s hard to say.
Ronda Rich, author of the “What Southern Women Know” trilogy, writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.