Saturday, January 7, 2017

Affordable Joy

I was a happy child. I'm basing that on the fact that I'm grinning in all six existing photos of me as a baby, and also because that was the report from the front lines. I was a "handful," but I was happy. I think you get born with a bunch of that, if you're lucky, like scoring red hair or a musical bent. But also, my parents didn't mess it all up. They appeared to be on the same page regarding whatever discipline I got, and never fought with each other to my knowledge, and in general led me to believe that everything was in good solid hands and I could expect certain outcomes and didn't have to guess or play the odds or one against the other. Also, I didn't have all that much stuff.

I had plenty. I had everything I needed. That would be food and affection and limits and drawing paper and rules about using extra drawing paper underneath so I wouldn't dent up the cherry dining room table, and other rules. I was appreciated and hugged and laughed with and laughed at and I had a clear idea what I could get away with (nothing, according to me; everything, if my older siblings are to be believed).

I was thinking about that when Dave was hunting around for a pencil sharpener. He was looking for a plug-in model but had to settle for one of those little square numbers you have to actually shove the pencil into and turn all by yourself with your other hand. Evidently it worked great. He was impressed with the point, although he's still wondering where the plug-in one is. It reminded me of back-to-school shopping when I hadn't even been to school yet.

It was grand! Mom had a list sent to her from John Marshall Elementary as I was to enter first grade. We went to Robinson's Five And Dime and started checking things off the list. I remember one of the items was a "pencil case." That was a little zippered bag--was it plastic? Did they even have plastic then? Pre-plastic. And pencils (Number Two: five of them). And one of those little square pencil sharpeners. It worked great! There'd be that little crunch inside, tiny violence in the box, and even the scent was sharp: carbon and wood, earthy and pungent, as though everything you would ever make might already be in there. And a Composition Book.  Those had a mottled black-and-white cover. And a big square Gum Eraser. And a ruler.

This was the most extended period of Acquiring Things That Would Be Mine that I had ever experienced. The only other way to get new things was to grow out of old things (and then you were likely to get your sister's even older things) or get two new dresses for school in the fall or get toys on your birthday or Christmas, and not that many of those. Man, we were flying through that list! My pencil case was blue. Why would I remember that with fondness almost sixty years later? Because we didn't have a lot of stuff.

If we had, I wouldn't remember any of it. I wouldn't have cared about it. Happiness comes cheap, and a lot of the time that's the only way it comes.

As an adult, I romanticized the days when people my mother's age could have been delighted with a Christmas orange in their stockings. I knew that kind of joy was a thing of value you can get only by not piling on.

We're likely to be coming up on those days of value again. Our profligacy will have to come to an end soon. We can't keep pirating unearned energy out of the rocks. We won't be able to afford the doo-dads we thought we could when the big vein was being mined and we were living off the jackpot like it would last for all time. The good news is our children will be happier.

24 comments:

  1. This is one of the reasons I pride myself on being a bottom-feeder. My husband and I choose to live a simpler life than most of our peers, and as near as I can tell, we seem a great deal happier than they are. They always seem to be in debt, yet that doesn't stop them from going after the latest iteration of the iPhone or buying a new car or taking a trip to Hawaii. Because we live simply, the Big Recession... we slid on through it with nary a ripple. It's certainly more gratifying to live simply by choice, rather than because one is driven to it. But it requires a tremendous paradigm shift, as it's considered un-American not to spend money profligately.

    I was thinking about Trump's promise to make producers of goods pay border taxes when they relocate out of the country. Some companies are already expanding their US factories rather than going overseas. May this not be a good thing? Prices have been kept artificially low by producing things in other countries. If things cost what they actually should (if people making them were paid a living wage), maybe people would curb their spending.

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    1. If things cost what they actually should, people would be paid a living wage, and the environment would continue to sustain us, and dang right we wouldn't have so much stuff!

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  2. I grew up poor (as did most of America back when) and I can go back to being poor. Things no longer fill me up. Ideas, wisdom, poetry...those fill me up.

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  3. My favorite things have always been those fall school supplies (a new pink eraser!) and really old hardware stores that no longer seem to exist. Along with a yard sale of a retiring sewer... But I digress... I can manage very well... I suspect my kids can too... they live that way now... I am done rambling and about to start sewing.... Happy Snow/freezing rain today!

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    1. I really liked the big square yellowish erasers. Which figures in the first mean-girl episode I ever was the victim of.

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    2. Murr - is that ^^^ a "hook" for some future story? Hope so!

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    3. I probably mentioned it once already--somewhere!

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  4. So true. I was going to say that we might be the last generation to know this, but then I think of all the blogs I've visited where young families are living simply and canning their garden produce and buying secondhand and sewing and CHOOSING to live without extravagance, and I have hope. I've also been thinking what Tiffin said - if things cost what they should cost, it might help. But it takes a huge change in mindset for a huge segment of the population.

    You do look like you were a sunny little thing, by the way!

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    1. My father told me I had a "gift" for happiness. He recognized it as a gift because he didn't have it.

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    2. Ahh ... that's a shame. But he helped you to see your good luck. And you still remember.

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  5. I never realized we were poor growing up because everyone I knew was in the same situation!!

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    1. That is another key to happiness. Well-documented one, at that.

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  6. I too had (and have) the important things. The extras were just that. Extras. And there weren't a lot of them. They were appreciated and rare. Which is as it should be.

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    1. Gotta say, I've got way more than enough extras now. What happened?

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  7. Thrift was encouraged and practised.I saved for my first bicycle (I was 7) and I was 18 before I learned that my father had very quietly put the purchase money back into my savings account where it earned interest over the next eleven years!
    We neither had nor craved "luxury" toys.We had imagination, long summers in the fresh air and only the basic boundaries.

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    1. Also, dogs were on the loose. That was a downside.

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  8. I remember a similar happy baby and childhood, always a big grin in my photos too. We didn't have back to school shopping back then, I remember schools would open a few days before the official start of the year and we would have our list of requirements given to us on the last day of the previous year, so off we'd go to the school and our supply list would be handed to us free, xxx number of lined exercise books, one ruler, three pencils and so on. Text books were handed out on the first day of class. Things like pencil cases were optional and not included in the free supply.
    I'm not sure when all of that ended, but we have the back to school sales in all the stationery shops now each January. I'm a fan of lined notebooks and always go and get a couple of dozen, but I'll skip it this year, I have so many.

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    1. I don't have ANY. I don't like to write longhand and I can't always read what I wrote when I do write longhand. Word processors solved everything.

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  9. I remember that Christmas orange! And a 6-page colouring book that came wrapped in red cellophane; such beautiful, crinkly, crackly stuff that when you looked through it made everything look warm!
    My pencil box was a box. Plain wood, with a hinged lid that swung sideways. And at the beginning of the year, I had a pencil that I hadn't even chewed yet.

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    1. I had a file card box like that but not a pencil box. And I remember the red cellophane too! I was never a pencil chewer, and Styrofoam cups hadn't been invented yet.

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  10. I hope you and yours had a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and are having a very HAPPY NEW YEAR. May we display your header on our new site directory? As it is now, the site title (linked back to its home page) is listed, and we think displaying the header will attract more attention. In any event, we hope you will come by and see what is going on at SiteHoundSniffs.com.

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  11. Beautiful post and thoughts; I had some similarities with you when growing up. I remember the school shopping lists and how it was fun to put together the things on the list.

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    1. Let's go out and buy pencils! You and me!

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