Sunday, July 1, 2012

Little Decisions That Made A Big Difference: Part 2

Take a minute, and enter our newest book giveaway, Kids Quilt Together. This is one of the best how-to quilting books out there for not only teaching children how to quilt, but accomplishing class and group quilts, start to finish. Three easy projects are included in the step-by-step photos and text. 
    You've got until next Sunday, July 8 (midnight MST) to leave a comment on that post. If you're 'following' the blog, or subscribing via e-mail, be sure to leave a separate comment about that -- it means THREE extra entries in the giveaway!

On to the series that began last week. (Part 1, 'Starting Out,' is here, if you want to start from the beginning.)


    Growing up in rural Michigan, living on a farm that was originally homesteaded by my ancestors, gave me a strong sense of history -- of picking up ear corn in a field that my great-great grandfather also walked in, of washing up in a kitchen my grandma cooked in. It was a wonderful gift -- and a reminder that other lives were part of mine, even if they had died generations before.
     My dad left school after eighth grade, to help his parents on their South Dakota farm. In spite of characterizing himself as a 'dumb Hollander,' he loved to read and study. He and the Mama were insistent that Little Brother and I were going on to college.
      But how? We had little money. (When talking to the Mama about writing this series, she confirmed what I'd remembered -- that money was very, very tight. She mentioned one week that we had no money for milk or bread -- so we had none that week. We drank water, instead. "We must have been ok," she said. "We're still here!") Generally, we had plenty to eat. Our expenses were covered. And thanks to being part of a large and extended family, we were given plenty of clothes to wear. (The Mama was also a crack tailor who sewed professionally for others, as well as us.)
    I knew I wanted to go on to college. The only way to do it was to go to work.
    As soon as I could, I began babysitting. I spent most of one summer babysitting two rambuctious little boys -- then by high school, I had a regular gig with three boys. (Their father was a salesman for Kraft, and their refrigerator always had unusual cheeses and other goodies -- stuff I'd never seen, and was incredibly 'exotic.') I did this regularly for some years.
     Little Brother and I also entered essay contests, sold wrapping paper , and helped sell sweet corn, raspberries and green beans in a roadside table under the maple trees out front. We also received 25-50 cents a week in allowance. We split the roadside money with the folks, but the rest was ours to keep.
     The folks had a rule:
           10% goes to God.
           50% is deposited in the bank account for college.
           40% is yours to do with, as you please. (I generally used mine for books, Christmas and birthday presents, and needlework kits, as well as fabric for outfits the Mama would sew.)

     When I was 15, and a freshman in high school, the owner of Sparta's hardware store asked if I'd be interested in working for him --  $1.50 an hour. I was making 75 cents an hour babysitting -- seemed like incredible riches!  Every day but Thursday after school, I would walk to the store, along with two friends who also worked in town. (They bagged groceries in the store down the street.) I'd work there until 6 p.m. or so, when Dad would come to pick me up.
     I worked all day Saturday and during the summer -- week after week, month after month, for four years. (After I graduated from high school, I continued to work now and then on college breaks, as well.) I also played in band, sang in choir, and even took a part in a play now and then.  (Oh yes, I also continued to take piano lessons once a week -- something I'd done since third grade, though I practiced less and less. Don't tell my current piano students...)
    The folks insisted that my grades stay up. They also attended every play, concert and Little Brother's sports events. (He played football all through middle and high school, was a wrestler, helped Dad farm and also worked at Uncle's farm supply, where Dad was now the manager of the Parts and Repair division.) Our aunt managed the cafeteria; both Little Brother and I both worked there to help pay for our lunches.
     It was a busy life, but I do not remember feeling put upon for it. At night, if I wasn't headed somewhere, I cross-stitched or did crewel embroidery, knit, crocheted and read many books. (Except for math, school lessons were quickly done. Sometimes I listened to the Boston Pops -- especially on Sunday afternoons. And late at night, I listened to old-time radio shows, leading to a fondness for The Shadow, Jack Benny and mysteries.) I went to Little Brother's games...and gained a love for amateur football that endures today. A crush on a teacher's son led to being exposed to Shakespeare's works. (He loved the Bard, and eventually, so did I. Although I did not know it then -- so did the Brick!)
     And my savings account grew.
     By the time I graduated from high school, I'd saved $2000 -- an amount that seems incredible now, considering how little I was making -- but is a testimony to what can gradually build up, dollar by dollar, if you added to it regularly. With scholarships, a little help from the folks, and a series of jobs ranging from working in the cafeteria, secretarial work, house cleaning and a pick-your-own apple orchard (often more than one at a time), it was enough to get me through college.
     Besides The Rule, my life was changed by other 'small' decisions:

*A love of all things needlework -- something I shared with my grandma and mother. I did it for pleasure, but it was also the source of most of the Christmas and birthday presents. (One extravagant Christmas, the Mama was also given a TEN-DOLLAR wax angels candle. It is hard to present now how much money that was to me back then. P.S. She still has it.) 
      Little did I know that this hobby would eventually lead to a career teaching and writing about it!

*The willingness to work at any kind of job, as long as it was honest and paid. And I'd better do a good job at it, as well -- it was my reputation on the line. The folks had always insisted on the importance of a good name, but it had become even more important when I became a Christian at age 15. I wanted to honor the King, as well as my family.

*The importance of being able to do several things well -- at least three. I took typing class in high school; not only did the teacher smell delicious (English Leather cologne!), but I could type my own papers. (And get paid to type others.) Increasing my speed meant the chance to not only write more quickly, but do secretarial work. (Something that helped me gain money for my own schooling, and help put the Brick through college later on)
    I also knew how to cater, thanks to working during the Mama's gigs. I could run a cash register and work in retail, thanks to the hardware store. (And I knew nails, screws and especially plumbing fittings, very well. Try watching a farmer blush when he asks for a 'female end!')

*Having little money wasn't easy -- but it also wouldn't necessarily be permanent. The Mama was the youngest of eight, and nearly all of those siblings had between 5-8 kids themselves. One uncle owned the farm supply my dad and brother worked at; another uncle had a construction and swimming pool business. I'd grown up as one of the youngest of 60-plus bright, lively and opinionated cousins -- many of them much better off, seemingly, than my family. (Or so I thought, at the time. I wonder now how many of those relatives had paid off their homes or set money aside, like the folks had.)
     Maybe I had to work through high school and college. Maybe I didn't have funds for many new clothes and recitals, going out to eat, plays or games. (Well, except for dates.) It didn't matter. I knew how to be frugal. I was paying my bills, eating, and still had time to study. (I didn't sleep much back then.) 

A whole new world beckoned.

coming up:


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