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Making do is something we all can learn

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

A long flight or time spent driving to a destination, deep in an adjoining state, allows time to reflect and reminisce. It is at those times that his image often flashes to the forefront of my consciousness.

He and my mother lived a hard life, but they found it rewarding because they found a way to make ends meet. Health was good and there was always food on the table. Frugality was their daily companion. Debt, even the short-term variety, was disdained. Strong drink and tobacco use were rejected as passionately as church attendance was emphasized.

Well into their 80s, they were planting gardens and putting up for the winter. There was no medical insurance and no dental insurance. He didn’t want my brother and me to play football for one overpowering reason: if a broken leg had come about, he would not have been able to pay the medical bills. God forbid the loss of teeth or the smashing of a jaw in those days of no face guards!

He did live to experience the benefits of Medicare, but he never expected any kind of assistance of that sort in his lifetime. Social Security was okay. He had put in, so it was only fair that he could take out in his sundown years. He didn’t want his government to take care of him. He didn’t want it to take care of everybody else either. He expected to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. He knew how to make do.

Grocery shopping for him and my mother was a social and economizing adventure. They would go into town on Saturday and visit with their friends as they sought out the best price for every item. They would compare the cost of everything. If one brand of peanut butter was 19 cents a jar and another was 18 cents, they saved the penny. They grew practically everything needed from the garden, but sugar, salt and other essentials had to be “store bought.”

Summer was a time of plenty — vegetables from the garden and sweet iced tea. Sweet tea was a delicacy. In winter, we ate what we had put up from the garden in summer, and we made cane syrup to enjoy with butter — not the most healthy meal, but it was tasty and filling.

Our big meal came at noon, which we called dinner. Supper, the evening meal, was always leftovers from what we had at noon. Snacks were improvised from loaf bread, which we called “light” bread, with either ketchup or mayonnaise. My mother always made extra biscuits at breakfast, which made for excellent snacks. You took one of those robust, homemade biscuits, bored a hole in it with your forefinger, and filled it with cane syrup.

I never felt that I was poor; we just didn’t have any luxuries. But I was never hungry or abused, and I learned the value of the work ethic. Most important, I was imbued with the electric anticipation of curiosity, which allowed me to fantasize about seeing the wide world out there — never once thinking it would happen.

This past life flashes back more often these days. The aging process has something to do with it, but there is the reality that future generations will likely be called on to make do — like my parents. I’m not worried about an inability to make do but rather the mental toughness to manage the challenge.

My late father succumbed at 91 to the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. If not for that malady, he probably would be driving his pickup truck today, taking my mother for a ride through the countryside. He never wanted a handout. He would have spit in your eye if you had suggested he accept a transfer payment.

All this is to say, as we embrace the technological advances of today’s world and salute the titans of Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Facebook and others who have brought the world to our fingertips, let us not forget the champions of the make-do past. We can learn from them, too.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via email at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.