I could feel the redness rise in my cheeks as I sheepishly put my note from my mother in the teacher’s “in box” on her old wooden desk. It wasn’t because I missed school that I felt embarrassed, but because once again Mom recycled the back of a school newsletter, cut into a tiny note card sized square to explain the reason for my missed day of fourth grade. Classmates’ parents wrote their notes on crisp and attractive purchased note cards, usually with matching envelopes, to communicate with the teacher. I thought that this little detail revealed my modest family circumstances that my father was a disabled coalminer and my mom a stay-at-home mother. I have corrected this injustice from my childhood by always ensuring that there are several boxes of engraved note cards at the ready to communicate with teachers, the maid, the lawn care man, neighbors and anyone else I could possibly demonstrate my communicative style and obvious good taste in stationery. The bread box may be empty, but we never have to look far to find really good writing paper.
My mother was thrifty in other ways, too. She reused aluminum foil, (I guess re-purposing is the new term) cut paper napkins in half, sewed much of our clothing and her own; grew her own massive vegetable garden to can and freeze a winter’s worth of delicious, healthy meals. She clipped coupons, baked from scratch, re-painted furniture and saved until she could purchase what we needed in cash. Since I was certain I knew better, I set out on my own early, marrying in my early twenties and determined to live a more exciting life; one of shiny new things and convenience. Definitely a life that would have really nice note cards in it.
The economy has weakened and my husband’s business has slowed. Our retirement and investment savings have plummeted, and we feel a little less bold. We try to use less water, make fewer trips to the grocery store, re-think big purchases and try to do more things for ourselves. I have started to think of many other ways my mother, who passed away before our first born turned two, was smarter than I. Equipped with only a 6th grade education, she managed a home so that we never ran out of bread, sent two daughters to college who graduated debt free, never held credit card debt and found joy in simple pleasures. My mother was smarter than I. This I believe.