When a young friend queried me for an article she was writing on guilty pleasures, I didn’t have to think it over.
“Seeing how many cups of coffee I can get out of one coffee filter.” She didn’t write it down.
“Using a night light as the primary light in my bathroom?” She frowned.
“Refilling small tissue boxes from a giant-size box?” She clicked off her pen.
While Godiva chocolate binging, Manolo Blahnik shoe hoardings, and massages by Mr. Magic Fingers excite guilty-pleasure in fifty-something daughters, hiding out at the other end of the consumption spectrum are mothers indulging in thrifty pleasures.
Chances are we do not have a social media presence on the internet, credit cards run up to the max, or the bone density of normal 35-year olds. Born during the depression and schooled in wartime, our lives were conditioned by the rules of thrift. Today we cling to its comfort, despite ridicule from our loved ones, citizens of a disposable nation wrapped in a culture of abundance.
You may not know anyone who can identify a darning needle, let alone possess the skill to use one. After telling me she darns socks because she loves the darning needle she inherited from her grandmother, my college roommate admitted the practice drew scorn from her children. But their argument about replacement value versus labor intensity did not keep her from passing the knowledge on to a few of her grandchildren.
A friend’s sons insisted she take a cab to the airport after she recovered from pneumonia. Compliance cost her $35 as opposed to $1.25 for the city bus. “I’m not ever doing that again,” she said. “But don’t tell my kids.” Two extra hours plus having to manage her luggage did not dampen my friend’s joy in savings so large. If only her kids could join in the celebration.
When my daughters visit they graze my cupboards and refrigerator, keeping an eye out for offensive provisions. “This cereal expired in 2002,” one reports. The ketchup is likely too old to garnish my grandson’s hot dog and doesn’t the milk smell sour? While not exactly a source of pride to me, my outdated larder has become a family joke. When I visit them I’m greeted with a checklist of all the refrigerated dishes I must eat during my stay. I am the last refuge between these items and the garbage.
This Mother’s Day I received an early morning cellphone call from one of my daughters. It was a beautiful day and I was on my way to the local green market. In my backpack I carried a two-week supply of food scraps for the compost bin. At the moment she called I was crossing through the Columbia University campus on 116th Street in Manhattan where I live. Robed students and families gathered for a graduation ceremony about to begin. With the jazz band playing it was hard to hear so we cut the call short. When I got home I had a message on my land line phone. “Mom, I’m calling to let you know how much I love the image of you walking through a Columbia graduation with your food scraps while the jazz band plays.”
It’s the way I would like to be remembered.