October 25th, 2010 at 9:18 pm
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Many thanks to my penny-pinching mom

by Devlyn Brooks

My mom practices a frugality that my sons will never understand. There’s just too big of a generational gap between the circumstances of how my sons are being raised and the dire financial situation into which my mother was born. Thanks to the work ethic I inherited from my mom and a college degree, the boys’ have always known a life of small luxuries. There’s always been enough money to take a surprise trip to McDonald’s for lunch, or to catch a movie here and there or even to buy a video game system.

My mother, on the other hand, was born in the ’30s to a family deeply impacted by The Great Depression. My grandfather worked for the railroad and took odd jobs when they were available. And my grandmother always worked as well, in restaurants, in seamstress shops, wherever there was need for a hard-working young mother. My mom even remembers as a young child when my grandfather was transferred to man a new railroad station in a new town, they lived in a railroad boxcar for some months until they could afford a home of their own.

That’s not to say that my mom didn’t receive some treats. She recalls frequently receiving a nickel to run to the local pool hall to get a milkshake, and there was always money for rides when the county fair came to town. But, for the most part, money was sparse and my grandmother ran a tight financial ship. Mom didn’t get store-bought toys and her clothes were always hand-sewn by my grandmother.

So no matter how many times I try to explain to the boys why their grandma has such a tough time accepting going out eat, they are just not equipped to understand it. They laugh and get embarrassed that she will sneak her own snacks into sporting events and into movies rather than pay the exorbitant prices at the concession stand. And they roll their eyes when she busies herself to pack a lunch to take with fishing rather than spending money on snacks at the bait shop.

But I have to admire mom’s financial chops. Her ability to stretch a dollar led to a good home life for us kids. And even though she raised the last two of us on her own, I never knew I was poor. I didn’t get the trips to McDonald’s, but she made damned sure that I never went without decent-looking clothes, that I wouldn’t be excluded from any school or Scouting activity that cost money or even that I was sure to get a new bicycle or other treat when it was deserved. It was her hard work that gave me the work ethic to become a first-generation college student and earn the living that the boys know.

No, the boys can’t understand their penny-pinching grandma today, but I hope that when they’re grown they understand the comfortable life they received is a direct result of every penny their grandmother pinched.

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