Saturday Night Coffee and Conversation (ms)

Saturday nights mean different things to different people. Generally it can be summed up as a night to go out. Maybe a party, a game, a date, a movie. Dinner perhaps at a place where it’s better not to ask what price ought to be in the blank spot at the end of the featured item for the night. Be cool and remember if you must ask you probably can’t afford it.

I have given up on many of those things preferring to spend most of my Saturday nights in a quiet fashion. My wife and I still go out but not that often and not to any place where the ringing in your ears caused by the music won’t disappear until at least morning. Don’t need that.

Tell the truth a good Saturday evening for us is pizza with friends then the chance to sit around and gab over coffee. I don’t hear of that happening a lot these days. Why, we barely have time to talk to our families let alone friends. Too bad for us. We miss an awful lot.

For one thing you get honest opinions not something said to gain votes or favors or something for free. The friends my wife and I keep aren’t interested in our votes. They know we’ll do them a favor if need be and they would do the same for us. We alternate paying the bill at the pizza place and there’s the freebie. So, they have nothing to gain by giving us anything less than their honest opinion.

The other night we were talking about the recession/depression. What is it they say, “If your neighbors out of a job it’s a recession; if you’re out of a job it’s a depression”. Well we all know folks who fit into both categories and we concluded it’s safe to say things are bad economically no matter whose shoes you’re wearing. But how bad is bad?

On a computer screen I have an image from the archives of Life magazine. It’s of a woman whose face is dirty, lined, frightened and worried all at the same time. There are two young boys to the back of her and nestled against her a tiny baby. The photo date says it was taken at the height of the Great Depression and that was bad. I see her face and think she is the standard bearer for all who went through those terrible times. Over my career I’ve had the good fortune to meet several folks like the woman pictured on my computer. It has been my privilege because I have learned something from each one.

“Don’t throw anything away,” my uncle told me once, “because you don’t know when you’ll get another.” My uncle was a pack rat. He had a work shed full of pieces of this and that, lumber mostly. On the face of it there seemed to be only a pile of junk inside that shed but need an eighteen inch two-by-four (two buh was the customary designation)? He had one. In his basement he had more nuts, bolts, screws and washers than a hardware store. Tools to do almost anything, a few electric motors and enough parts to rebuild his mower and a few others.

“Good crop of tomatoes this summer. Plenty of canning to do but we’ll be good for the winter.” That was an old neighbor of mine reflecting on the good work he had been doing all summer and thinking about the work ahead. Canning or jarring as some called it was a part-time job that filled the spaces between all the other things folks did. The payback came when you went down to the cellar on a bitterly cold January day and got some jelly or maybe some chili or a pint of relish to go with supper. It was almost like opening a bottle of summer.

“There’s some meat we put up, some vegetables. Watch where you walk or you’ll bump into a crock of sauerkraut over there.” Those words came from two elderly folks who lived through the Great Depression and thought if one ever came again, if they had no money, if the banks closed down and they locked the market doors well they could survive for a good while. They also had flour and some other dry goods to make sure there was always bread on their table. The Boy Scouts use the motto “Be Prepared” but all these folks could easily have used it as well.

There was in all of them the thought that they had been burned once in their lives and if they had anything to say about it that wouldn’t happen again. They took great pains to make sure that no matter what, life for them would go on. Maybe not to the same level but they would get by and be just fine, thank you very much.

I did an informal survey of these folks and many others I met over the years. The question was always the same, “Do you think we’d survive a Great Depression if one were to come along today and be as notably bad as that one in the 1920’s and 1930’s?” The same answer invariably came back, “No, I don’t think so.” When pressed for reasons they summed it up by talking about no one doing anything any longer to help themselves.

Of course that’s a generality and there are indeed folks who garden, can and freeze their food. They heat with wood or coal, throw very little away, do without the latest and greatest, fix whatever they can using saved parts and as a rule are pretty comfortable. Then, there’s the rest of us.

I’ve been thinking about all this in light of the recent economic problems and more so now that the deepest part of winter has set in. What would I do? What could I do? For one thing plant a bigger garden this summer then learn a little about home canning. Even if we have a supermarket to go to next winter I’m thinking I’ll still be ahead of the game.

–Mike Stevens

~ by admin on January 27, 2011.

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