Growing up "On the Cheap"
Mar. 31, 2010 1:55 pm
Updated: Aug. 10, 2010 5:06 pm
Since my current mission seems to be saving money wherever I can in the budget, I really should first give props to my mom for being the ultimate cheapskate. Now, I don't say this in a derogatory way at all; In all honesty, she's the person I admire most for going the distance to ensure that her family never went hungry. Of course I didn't think that way when I was growing up, on the contrary, I was completely mortified by some of the things she did. Justifiably, she'd probably be just as mortified to find out that I'm about to share some of those things with you. But she doesn't know about this blog. So I'm going to spill. Sorry, Mom!
We grew up in a small town at the Northwestern most tip of Oregon, between the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. I've heard my mother say more than once that the ocean kept us from starving. Some of my early (and best) memories are of going to the beach and using a rake to get crab out of tide pools just after high tide. We also learned to clam, and would stomp around in the sand right at the edge of the water looking for little clam bubbles, then frantically dig with a narrow shovel to find the razor clams before they burrowed too deep. I thought this was family time; it just happened to also turn into dinner. We did it all; salmon fishing, crabbing, clamming, fishing for sturgeon, we even scraped mussels off the rocks. This, though, was the "glamorous" part of living on the cheap.
The not so glamorous part was the foraging. My mom never made us come with her for this part, and I thank her for that. Though we did have to stand at the side of the road picking berries (horrifying to a pre-teen), she never made us go to the grocery store and haul home the cast-off produce that they were going to throw away. This was done in the guise of "rabbit food", since my sister and I were in 4-H and had several bunnies. She would bring home boxes of lettuce and apples, whatever was there to be found, and would cut the bruised or damaged parts off the produce and wash and save the good. Bad outer layers were peeled off of lettuce and cabbage, and the tiny heads that were left got turned into meals.
Mom would also frequent the canneries, where fish were cleaned and prepped for packaging. She would bring home 5 gallon buckets of cod heads, "bait" for our crab pots. However by the time the heads were actually used as bait, they were missing their cheeks. She would stand at the sink with a fillet knife and painstakingly cut out the silver dollar size pieces of cod, then batter them and serve them for dinner. I have no idea how many cod heads it would take to make a meal, but it must have been a lot because a family of five can eat a lot of battered fish. One year Mom made friends with a local beef farmer, who lived across the river. She was so delighted one day to come home with buckets (and I do mean BUCKETS) of cow tongues in the trunk of her car. We ate a lot of tongue that winter.
All of our friends and neighbors must have known we struggled. My parents had quite a few commercial fisherman friends, and some wacky things ended up in the cooler we kept on our porch; things that I'm sure got caught up in fisherman's nets that they had no use for. I remember octopus and squid quite well, and I vividly remember the day I came home from school to find a shark in the bath tub. Of course as an adolescent, I thought my mother was bizarre, the crazy cat lady, only with free food instead of cats. She embarrassed me to no end. I often told her she was weird, to which she would reply "No, I'm just eclectic". And she was. Still is. The last time I went to visit her, she had an entire full size refrigerator on her back porch full of eggs. What does one do with thirty dozen eggs? They were free. What was she going to do, turn down free food? Insanity. I guess old habits die hard.
I am nowhere near as industrious as my mother when it comes to saving money on groceries, but thank goodness I've never had to be. I'd like to think, though, that if I was in that position, I would do exactly what she had done, all they way down to bartering homemade bread at construction sites in exchange for their scrap wood so that the family would have heat in the winter. She might be the crazy cat lady, but not one of us ever went hungry, and we were never cold. Love you, Mom!