Prudence, Mother's Best Friend

Reader Contribution by Jane Gripper
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The Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania during September, was a wonderful, encouraging and reassuring experience.If anyone has the chance to go next year, don’t hesitate, just do it! Living here in consumptive suburbiaville, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of making conscious environmental decisions on a daily basis. We are not “weird,” as some of the people round here think, just because we hang our washing outside, or compost our waste. It was wonderful to be with people who are conscious of environmental impact, and want to do something about it

What I really wanted to talk about this month is being the “child of a depression child.” When I was growing up, we used to give my mother a hard time about throwing things out, or rather, not throwing things out. “I am the child of the depression,” she would say. We were not financially “hard up,” but there were five of us kids, and my father worked as an accountant as the sole earner, so there were certainly no frills. When the toast was burnt, there was no question of throwing it away; we just had to scrape off the burnt bits. I used to dread the mornings when burnt toast smells would waft into my bedroom, and I would hear the “tch tch tch” of mum scraping the burnt bits off the toast, I would stay in bed, pull the covers up, and hope that the “burnt one” wasn’t for me! When something broke, we tried to fix it. My dad would often mix up some two-part epoxy glue, and walk around the house calling “bring out your dead and broken.” We kids would bring out all our broken toys, ornaments or furniture for gluing.The ends of the bread would be frozen to make into breadcrumbs at a later time. Even the plastic bread bags were washed and reused. Dad would walk around the house switching off lights and heaters if you left the room for a minute, finding the waste unbearable.

Bits of twine, bread ties, old screws, tin cans lumber, anything with a potential re-use, was kept and invariably, reused to fix something. This was because my parents had seen real, widespread poverty. My father tells the story of some of his classmates who would wait around for apple cores they were so hungry, and shoeless children, or children whose shoes were patched together with cardboard and string, and 5 sizes too big for them. Mum, who grew up in a coal-mining town, says that people often came to their door looking for food or offering to do work around the house in exchange for food. I grew up with my parent’s memories of really tough times.

Recently, in the rental house in which we are living, we had furnace issues, toilet issues and door handle issues. In each of these cases, men came to look, and all announced, …”the whole thing will have to be replaced,” despite the fact that, in each case, it was just a small part that was broken. I just can’t stand the “it’s cheaper to replace the whole thing” mentality we now have in our society. What ever happened to “let’s try and fix it”?When they say, “it’s cheaper to replace the whole thing,” it most certainly is not cheaper to the environment. Not only does the old unit/product have to be disposed of, but the new unit/product has to be made (using fossil fuels) and shipped (using fossil fuels) from goodness knows where, and then installed. How can that possibly be cheaper than just replacing a small part?

So, being the “childofadepressionchild” I kindly sent those men and their “you’re gunna have to replace it” attitude away, and tried to fix the broken things. With the furnace, we read the manual (amazing what you can learn), and worked out a system to get the furnace to work. It may not be as convenient as just flicking a switch now, but it works. The front door handle and lock….just ask me anything about how to fix a front door lock/ handle set using a bit of time and ingenuity. As for the cistern in the toilet, well all I can say is two out of three ain’t bad.

So, how many generations can the influence of a “child of the depression” be stretched? I know that my children laugh at and mock my prudent ways, just as I did my parents. Will they follow in my footsteps and become “the children of the child of a child of the depression”? Will we ever experience that wide spread poverty that so many went through during the 1920s and 30s, forcing us once again to think? Perhaps the next “depression” will not be economic, but environmental in nature. I know that Mother (nature) will breathe a sigh of relief when prudence rules supreme!

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