My grandparents and parents lived through the depression. There are many stories and weekends together where I remember folks gathering for a meal. Mom often asked me if I knew why so many friends use to drop by in those early years. She explained that they all knew they would be fed. The same was true early on at my grandparents farm. Back then, a good meal was traded for a few hours' labor on the farm. Grandma fed an army of friends during hard times and good times. She was truly a gem.
The depression taught the older generations how precious any object or commodity was. They learned what their time and skills could be traded for, Grandma's cooking. Vagabonds were not the norm, but rather a close small town family of young and old grew together in times of need. No one threw anything away.
Grandparent's barn was full of anything you could imagine that could be used for repairs, from shoes to farm equipment. Tools to garden with were always washed, dried and oiled before they were put away. God forbid anyone use a shovel or hoe and leave it outside, used and dirty. Working tools meant successful survival and made any job a little easier.
Both my parents were “hoarders” to some degree. Dad saved anything that was mechanical. Mom would freeze half a leftover hamburger sandwich. During my younger years, I would often clean out my mom's fridge and freezer. The things I would find with complete freezer burn and rendered unusable were still not thrown away. I would always ask her why and politely insist that keeping these small half eaten items wrapped in tin foil was not necessary. She never wavered nor quit that behavior. The lessons of living in a country during a depression ran deep.
And if it were not for the world seemingly falling apart at the seams, these stories of days growing up would be no more than family history - I find that I have become them.
Trying to explain or teach any of this to the young today is probably wasted on deaf ears. They were born into having abundance on a whim, wound into their DNA. Much of this seems to have become a human right. I believe this runs as deep within new generations as self sufficiency ran in our elders.
Living the New England brings with it the opportunity for us to go to our transfer station for recycling and trash drop off. In fact, many transfer stations become friendly gatherings on the weekends. Drop off your glass and cans and strike up a friendly conversation with others. Becomes “world headquarters” at times.
With this comes the opportunity for shopping. I know that many folks will go “EWW” at picking up anything at the dump and bringing it home. But shopping at the dump becomes an art form and one soon realizes it is true that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Really no difference from shopping at flea markets or weekend garage sales.
Old bed parts, wooden furniture, chairs and the such greet us upon entering. We found a 30-year old cedar lined hope chest just sitting out in the open one day. Upon inspection, I found it was in top shape with a locking lid. A little wear and life marks on the outside but the potential to clean and bring back to every day use was obvious. We scooped it up. Eventually, we gifted it to the young daughter of a friend. That hope chest got a second family and life for many years to come and the price was right.
Like my father, mechanical things draw me closer. A Coleman cooking stove and lantern thrown away. All they needed was a little TLC and a drop of oil on the plunger to bring back full operation.
Hard work and elbow grease has been a way of living for me. I never have given this a second thought. Grandparents, parents and, to a smaller degree, myself, never had much expendable income to use on purchasing new items or expensive foods for meal making. We learned and were most happy at making a lot out of a little. And really, it was all in the willingness to get a little dirty and learning ways of refreshing older things that were already proven. Behind a little rust, dirt and time, lay a new tool for our use. An inexpensive cut of meat, a little knowledge and a meal for a king. I have learned to see what can become of anything “not so perfect or second cut.” I can feed a family of four for a week of dinners with one chicken.