In digging through the material remains of what I consider to be my heart's one-and-only home, I have smiled repeatedly, even chuckled out loud on occasion, at Mama's thriftiness.
Some might call the evidence of what I have found "stinginess." A few would say she was being a good steward of whatever dollars she scrounged together. Those of her own ilk — the Scotch-Irish — would say either that she did them proud or that she was a bit "quare." That's what the eccentric Scotch-Irish call each other when they think one of ‘em is odder than the rest.
Saving money was a full-time occupation for Mama. I found plastic baggies with pennies, a coin purse with nickels and dimes and, behind the mustard and ketchup in the refrigerator, a slotted piece of cardboard with six quarters stuck in it. For some reason, it had been cut in half so I have no idea where the other six quarters went. I'm sure, though, she didn't spend them.
"Watch your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves," she preached often to me. As I found pennies stuck here and there, I saw myself in the reflection of Mr. Lincoln. I watch cashiers as they ring up my purchases and scour receipts before I leave the counter. I will question an item that is a penny more and demand that I be given the correct price. It's not pretty behavior, I admit. But it's obvious from whom I inherited it.
One particularly parsimonious habit I did not inherit from Mama was her life-long devotion to Duct tape. That wide, silver-colored, strong tape was Mama's most faithful companion. It is possible, from what I unearthed, that she was addicted to it. Apparently, she looked for places to use it.
As the movers were packing up the house to put things in storage during the reconstruction, I was going through drawers and sorting papers. Melissa, the sweet young woman assigned to pack, held up an old kitchen cutting board that had split right down the middle. It was held together by a wide band of Duct tape around the center.
"Throw this away, right?" she asked as she dangled the sad looking piece of wood over the trash can.
I chuckled and shook my head. "No. Keep it. Let it not ever be forgot that a woman that frugal once lived."
She shrugged, not understanding, but then wrapped it carefully in bubble wrap and packed it away. Since Melissa packed up the kitchen, I was not aware of all the Duct tape first aid until I began to unpack.
The gauge on her pressure canner was mended with several pieces of it. For the record, that's one thing I wouldn't want to be making do with. Pressure canners and cookers unnerve me.
The screens around all her windows were Duct taped for heat efficiency and bug control. A chair with the leg broken from it had been glued back then bandaged with tape. Her batter-splattered recipe for chocolate cake had ripped, so it was taped back together with Duct tape. Apparently, she saw no reason to invest in transparent tape.
Myriad other items had been repaired with the silvery piece of wonder including knives, dishes, lamps, picture frames, loose covers of books, ice trays, vacuum cleaner cords and vases. The bottom of an old, red Folgers tin can had Duct tape all around. I don't know why, because it wasn't broken. Maybe she was having Duct tape withdrawals one day and just had to tape something. I took it home to my kitchen to use. I now open fresh coffee grounds and pour them into Mama's homemade can.
In fact, just like Mama, I threw none of it away. As I said earlier: That kind of frugality should never be forgotten. It should be honored.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville author of What Southern Women Know About Faith.
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