Posts tagged ‘frugal’

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Beatles are NOT Bugs

I attended a banquet last evening where the featured musicians played songs from the 60s and 70s…the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, and so forth.  Listening to the same Beatles songs that were first heard on the Ed Sullivan Show years ago, I became nostalgic for my childhood.  I led an unusual childhood with parents who were the opposite of materialistic…they rarely spent money on “things”.  Being a teenager those days was much easier than being a teenager in “modern” times.  Teenagers now have so many choices of types of jeans, sneakers, perfume and so forth.  We did not have as many choices when I was younger, and, if we did, my parents would have still bought the no name brand sneakers and jeans at K-Mart.  And who needed to smell good anyway?

For Christmas that year my dad gave me his old record player and a record to play on it.  The record was of the fake famous band the Bugs…dressed and hairstyled after the Beatles.  They played the same songs as the Beatles, albeit a little off key. To my parents, it was the same.  To me it was not.  Having been raised not to care about “things”, it surprised me how let down I felt when I received this record.  I know it was selfish of me when we had so many other things to spend money on, but I was disappointed by the fact that I did not get a  real Beatles record.

Although I have lived my life also not dependent on “things”, I still remember with more than a little resentment that day 40 years go.  Sneakers were just sneakers.  Jeans were just jeans.  But the Bugs were NOT the Beatles!

 

To read more about my unusual childhood, please check out my book The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane,   which was reviewed by Readers Digest at   http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Who Cares What I Look Like…I Saved Money…

Okay, I am officially “crazy”.  I know that is not a politically correct term, but yesterday I did something so obsessive that I realized for the first time in my life that something is seriously wrong with me…I bought make-up that did not match my skin color BECAUSE IT WAS ON SALE!!!!!!

I have always been a “frugal” person, coming from a long line of “frugal” relatives.  (Alright, actually only one, my dad, but he goes way back to my childhood so it is considered a long line to me.) My father was so “frugal” that is retrospect I realize he obviously had obsessive compulsive disorder.  Although we were a middle class family, we NEVER went out to eat.  (Well, there was that ONE TIME we did go out to an ice cream restaurant on their 25th anniversary, but other than that we did not eat at restaurants.)  He did not want to spend money on heat, so we used a wood stove. (We live in NEW ENGLANG!)  He did allow us to have electric blankets, but we could only turn it on to warm the bed, shutting it off when we went to bed.  So, I’d fall asleep all warm and cozy with happy dreams and wake up in the middle of the night dreaming of Antarctica. He also did not want to spend money on hot water, so he devised a type of solar hot water heater by threading water pipes on the roof and then into an unplugged water heater.  If it was a very sunny day, we could have a warm bath at night, but only once a week because he didn’t want to waste water.  We were fortunately to live on a lake so I did a lot of swimming to get clean.

We ate only what was inexpensive and on sale:  lots of rice, pasta, mashed potatoes and canned vegetables.  Not so much fresh vegetables, fruit or meat.  My father was not a vegetarian because of moral concerns, but because of the cost of meat.

For the beginning of school in September, I would be able to choose 2 outfits at the nearest discount store.  I would wear them alternate days during the week…all year! If I happened to grow during the year, (as of course often happened,) they would get a little tight.  Fortunately, my mother planned for this by buying them extra big at the beginning of the school year! She loved buying her and my father’s clothes and shoes at the Salvation Army.  In fact, everyone got a good laugh at my wedding when my mom came up and knelt down for communion and there was $1.99 written in black marker on the bottom of her shoe.  (You’ve GOT to laugh at stuff like that…)

My mother would cut my hair, usually crooked. When I became a teenager,  I tried to let it grown. I put it up in a “bun” like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, but it was so thin and uncontrollable that I usually ended up looking like Pebbles from the Flintstones!

We did go to the drive-in every Friday, and I was allowed the 25 cents to get popcorn, which was a huge treat for me.  During those days, you had to pay per person for the drive-in.  My father had me scrunch down low in the back seat so they would think I was under 12.  One day, when I was about 15, the person in the admission booth questioned my father about my age.  Because he would never LIE, he told them I was 15 but that he would not pay for me, and what difference did it make if he paid for 2 or 3 because they would still get some money.  The man in the admission booth dug in his heels…and so did my father.  To my huge embarrassment, my father made the long line of cars behind him waiting to pay BACK UP so that he could leave.  That was the last time we went to the drive-in.

Of all of the effects of economic frugality, the biggest one was that I never got a real Barbie doll.  I yearned for a Barbie doll!  I asked for one for birthdays and Christmas, but I always got the cheap plastic imitation Barbie dolls.  When I went to play with friends, they would take pity on me and let me play with their Midge doll, (Barbie’s “friend”,) but it was never the same as playing with my own real live Barbie. I think it is ironic that this is the one memory that has caused permanent harm to my psyche!

In retrospect, except for the doll, I did not know anything different.  I did not feel cheated or poor or economically deprived.  I learned to live with what I had and be happy. From an early age, probably because I had a brother who was severely disabled, I was empathetic with people with disabilities.  Although I did not see many children with physical disabilities in those days, there were many developmentally delayed students in the schools.  I would go out of my way to be friendly and helpful.  I had little tolerance for ignorant people who would fun of these valuable human beings, and I was known for my protective nature. I was fortunate to have had many friends in school.  They were not necessarily the most popular or the most fashionably dressed friends, but they were down to earth, friendly, and they appreciated their friendship with me. I was confident with myself, and I thought nothing of going up to a bully and telling them to stop picking on someone. Just like that, I’d have a new friend!  Sometimes I’d even make friends with the bully! I had a great time in school! My values were vastly different than other teenagers. This difference actually led into what I think is my best quality, the unwavering caring and acceptance of others.  Without this trait, I would not have become a social worker, and I certainly would not have adopted 4 children with disabilities!

Although one would expect I would rebel in the other direction, the one thing that could not help but rub off on me is frugality.  I started working at the age of 14 and paid 1/2 of my pay to my parents as room and board, (of COURSE.)  I finally had some disposable income and you would have thought I would spend it on clothes, haircuts and such.  NO.  I was a compulsive saver.  I saved to buy my own car at the age of 16 and I saved enough to pay for college at the age of 18. I am definitely not as frugal as my father, (who, by the way, died and left my mother with several hundred thousand dollars with which she happily used for the next ten years to travel to exotic locales.)  I do, however, get a big thrill buying things on sale with deep discounts!  I’m the type who would go to JC Penny’s or Macy’s and buy the seasonal items on sale at 80% off with an additional 20% off coupon.  Who can resist shirts for $3 or pants for $5?  I clothe my 5 children in this manner, always buying the year before for clothes they would need the next year.  Once, when a local department store went out of business, they were selling children’s clothing for 50 cents each. Who could turn THAT down?????  I bought 4 RACKS of clothing!  Fortunately, I was in the process of adopting our daughter from Guatemala, so my mother and I stuffed all of the clothing in 8 large suitcases which we took with us to Guatemala.  We each put our own clothes into backpacks which we carried.  The orphanage which had so tenderly cared for my daughter was thrilled to get such an assortment of new clothes.  The director actually cried because she said all they ever got were dirty and ripped hand me downs.

I no longer do the grocery shopping in my house because, like my father, I would only by items which were deeply on sale.  My husband is not a canned vegetable kind of guy.  In fact, I was lucky enough to marry a cook, so he does all of his own shopping, regularly visiting the local farm for fresh produce or the local meat market for fresh meat or fish.  My cupboards and refrigerator are always full of great food and I never have to worry about how much it cost!

Which brings me back to my drugstore sojourn yesterday when, browsing the aisles, I noticed that some of the make-up items were 75% off.  (PLUS I had a $5 off coupon for the store!  What could be better?)  I picked out the marked-down items and proudly brought them to the register.  I was happy!  I was frugal!  I was an idiot!  When I got the items home and tried to use them, I was horrified to learn I had bought powdered make-up such an ugly color that when I put it on I looked like I had pancake make-up on my face. (I’m not talking about pancake make-up they were in the movies, I’m talking about make-up that actually looked like I was wearing pancake flour on my face!)  I tried the blush and it was so red that my cheeks looked like a clown.  The lipstick was brown.  (UGH!)  The mascara was not waterproof, (something I HATE because by night time I being to look like a raccoon.)  And WHY hadn’t I noticed that the nail polish was green???  For the first time in my life I looked at my white powdered, red cheeked, brown lipped self in the mirror and I thought “I am officially crazy!”  Oh, well, its a good thing that I think I am pretty on the INSIDE!

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