Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Little Decisions That Make A Big Difference: Part I

The heat has brought out the 'skeeters at our place. Used to be that we could enjoy a leisurely supper out on the patio at night. Now, once dusk sets in, so do the divebombers.
     I'm looking forward to trying out this homemade mosquito repellant. It might work for you, too!

I have been thinking about choices lately -- not just emotional ones, but physical and financial, that literally changed my life (and that of the Brick's) over the past 50-plus years. Perhaps our decisions mirror yours; perhaps they're different. But they've put us where we are -- and made us who we are. Thankfully, God's grace has been evident all along the way. 

This will be a four- or five-part series. 
Today's shot: STARTING OUT

     I grew up in a little farm town north of Grand Rapids, MI. It was small and rural enough that a bale of hay and a watering trough were kept at City Hall, just in case someone decided to ride their horse to town, rather than take the car.
    My ancestors helped found the area in the 1840s, and my parents lived on one of the family farms. In fact, the Mama was born on the front porch of our house. The farm wasn't one of Michigan's 'centennial' farms -- it had gone out of the family for some years. The folks bought it, 37 acres, for the 'astronomical' price of $10,000. ((They'd saved for the down payment by living with my grandma after their marriage and pinching every penny -- we didn't even have a tv until I was in fourth grade.)
    Dad worked at my uncle's farm equipment dealer, as a mechanic. His standard uniform was navy blue work shirt and pants, complemented by heavy 'clodhopper' work shoes. (In fact, he rarely wore anything else until the cancer set in, some forty-five or so years later.) He drove the company pickup to and from work.
     He made $100 a week.
     In his leisure time (!!!), he ran the farm, growing corn, wheat, alfalfa. We always had at least one pig or steer for the family meat, and often raised more to sell. The farming occasionally made a good income in bumper crop years -- but more often broke even, or barely a little more.
     Mom took care of my little brother and me, grew a huge vegetable garden, recycled hand-me-downs from our cousins, and sewed not only for us, but other people. She also did other jobs to help out, especially catering. (I remember her taking in ironing for a while, as well.)
    Our farm was (and is) in a big fruit area. When we wanted apples, strawberries or blueberries, we either bought them directly from the farmer -- or took advantage of the 'U-Pick' system. I can remember hot sultry summer mornings, crouched over the rows to get enough berries for jam and strawberry shortcake. (And being yelled at by the Mama: 'quit eating so many, or we'll never get done!') We raised red raspberries, and I could find blackberries out in the woods. (They were smaller, but made the most exquisite jam.)
    Asparagus grew wild in the ditches alongside the road, along with clouds of pink rosebushes. (It wasn't until middle school that I realized asparagus was considered a delicacy -- it was just everyday fare to us. Same for steaks and real maple syrup -- my grandparents had even run a 'sugar bush' for a while.)
    Dad's paycheck was carefully parcelled out. The folks believed strongly in tithing, so 10% first went to the church and contributions. For the rest, the first week (plus some extra) covered the mortgage; the second, utilities and gas. What was left over paid for food, doctor's visits, school expenses, vacations, presents, and the rest of everyday living expenses. There were no sick days for Dad, as I remember, and only a week for vacation -- the rest of the time, 6 days a week, he went to work.
    Saturdays were our 'celebration:' in the morning, the Mama took us to town (two miles away) to grocery shop -- and visit the library! I can still remember the awe-inspiring smell of dust and old books that Carnegie library building gave out, and the idea of shelves and shelves of books, just waiting for me. After our armload of books, it was across the street to -- the ice cream parlor! It had more than twenty flavors: could I bear to get another kind, instead of my usual single scoop of bubble gum?
    After chores, it was off to read the latest book, knowing that hamburgers and french fries were coming for supper. Sometimes the Mama sent us down to the corn patch just beforehand, to get sweet corn fresh for the meal. We drank gallons of unsweetened iced tea, and carried a fruit jar full, along with a handful of cookies, out to Dad out on the tractor. Kool-Aid was around too, and occasionally lemonade, but rarely fruit juice -- unless the Mama had canned it, or it was frozen orange juice doled out in a little glass at breakfast.
    We went to the local A&W drive-in once every week or so for a root beer. (We kids got the little courtesy glasses.) If we really splurged, we went to the Swan Inn, with real tablecloths, waitresses and a treasure chest to choose a prize from!
    Other than get-togethers with our large family (more on that in a bit), that was the extent of our entertainment. We did not go to movies, ball games or such, and only saw television at Grandma's or cousins' houses. (This didn't seem like deprivation -- it was just the way it was.)
     I did not realize back then that sweet corn and fat tomatoes fresh from the patch would be a luxury today. Nor did I think about nearly all of my clothes being either home-sewn or hand-me-downs. I did learn some lessons, though:
    Working -- and supporting yourself -- keeps your pride strong. We didn't have much after the bills were paid. But we also didn't owe anyone, except for the farm. Going in debt was foolish and to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. If you couldn't pay cash for it, you couldn't afford it. I learned this lesson very, very well from my parents. So did Little Brother.
     If you raise your own food, you know exactly what's in it. We were gardening organically before I even knew that word -- Dad would till in cow manure, and we hand-weeded and picked off the tomato worms. The pigs and cattle ate the weeds we threw in, and spoiled fruit or vegetables, and produced the manure that fed the garden. A very handy system. And we still have lots of options today in this area.
     Need something? Grow it, make it or finagle it yourself. Or go without. Dad could fix anything, with bits of scrap iron and a shot of fuel oil. (Cow manure, grease, sweat and a side whiff of Old Spice -- that was how he smelled. Still makes me nostalgic for him.) The outfits the Mama sewed made me the envy of my classmates. She could whip up a Barbie birthday cake or potroast, and there was no better treat coming home from school than her bread, hot from the oven, spread with butter and strawberry jam. (Unless it was her chocolate chip cookies.)
     Mom and Dad loved each other, and they loved us. It was a happy, peaceful life. The fact that we didn't have a lot really didn't seem to matter that much.  Were we poor? Compared to some of our cousins -- not to mention the la-dee-dah people I read about in books -- yes. But not to others.

Next installment:  EDUCATION -- AND WORK


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