Reading Children

About Being Frugal

My mother called it saving, my cousin Alex calls it being stingy, my husband says it’s frugality and I say it is recycling.
Why am I bringing this up? Let me tell you.
I was daydreaming under the shower and while feeling a little guilty about wasting all that water, I was reminded of the shortages I grew up with.

My early years don’t come with memories of shopping malls and ordering the latest on the Internet. No, my early memories are about packages arriving twice a year from the U.S.

The day a package arrived the entire family was excited. Mom and her sister Batya would go to get it from the post office. After dragging the heavy box tied amply with twine, they came home breathing hard. We, the children, couldn’t wait for the box to open. What surprises would this treasure contain this time? One thing was for sure; bubblegum would be hidden in there somewhere.

Out came the “new” goodwill dresses, pajamas, shirts and pants. Some time cans of dry milk, butter, cheese and egg powder. Never toys. I guess our aunt in America didn’t deem them to be important, or perhaps she thought we already had those in abundance. Instead we played with discarded dishes, rocks and mud pies.

These “new” clothes would now start their journey. Children’s dresses and pajamas went first to my cousin Ayala. Ayala, two years my senior, was the princes of the family. Tall, skinny and smart, she also grew like dough with lots of yeast, with the result that after few months some of the dresses and pajamas would end up in my closet. In spite of their history, they got to me in great shape since my cousin Ayala took perfect care of everything she owned.

In contrast, I was not all that tidy in taking care of things. In spite of that, when I had grown out of these treasures they were passed on to even less fortunate kids, such as the children of our equally poor neighbors. This happened for lack of younger family members of the female gender. The pajamas stayed in the family and ended up with my cousin Alex. By then they had been creatively repaired with colorful patches on the elbows, knees and the posterior areas of the pants.

The journey of the shoes was similar but also different. Shoes started off as one size bigger with the idea that you can grow into them. So we had to adjust them by inserting some newspaper in the front. As our feet grew, paper was removed and just for a while they fitted perfectly. But our feet didn’t stop there. They kept on growing and the shoes didn’t and became one size too small. That required a trip to the shoemaker, who apart from resoling them also turned them into “fashionable” open-toe sandals. All this, while I waited barefooted in his storefront, as the shoes in repair were the only pair I owned. And you were wondering why I have flat feet and hammer toes?

The next story about frugality is the one that brought me to this train of thought. Water was scarce and even weekly bathing was a luxury for us. I suppose people’s noses were not that sensitive those days.

It was a great, happy day when a bathtub was first installed at our house, after years of taking “showers” in a tub. A ritual was established. As mentioned there was a shortage of water in Israel at that time. As a result, the bathtub was used only once a week, on Fridays. Mom would fill the tub with cold water from the tap and then added hot water from a kettle heated on the stove. I was the first to go in. She would scrub me clean and let me play for five more minutes in the tub before getting me out to rub me dry with a coarse towel. I suppose Egyptian cotton had not been invented yet?

Second in line was mom. Without draining the tub, mom added a bit more hot water and got in. After she was done, the tub would then wait for it’s last body—that of my dad’s. When he came home, black as coal from his welding job, a bit more hot water was added to the “mix”. Shivering in lukewarm water, it did not take him very long.

After he was done and the family declared washed and clean, mom would bail the bath water with a pail and wash the deck and the steps outside. The remaining water in the tub would finally get drained.
Now, due to desalination and overflowing shopping malls most of these shortages are something of the past, a past of which I have the fondest memories.

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