Life is Simple
Whether fairly or unfairly, farmers and ranchers have always been viewed as some of the more frugal members of our society. My own parents fit the stereotype almost to perfection during the early part of my life, spending money only on things that were absolutely necessary for the farm and home.
I can remember when Dad switched from harvesting hay in loose form to the small square baler, we spent an entire spring building a bale loader from spare parts that lay around the farm. Never mind the fact that a new, factory built loader cost only $300 at that time, we owned a welder and had plenty of time to devote to assembling spare parts into a functional piece of equipment. Dad didn’t count our labor as costing anything, so the few dollars he spent on welding rods made the bale loader seem free to him – and savings like that made him feel like he had conquered the world.
Mom was no different. Her weekly trip to the grocery store would find her finishing her shopping in only minutes because the only purchases were for things such as sugar, flour, coffee, baking soda, and other staples of that day. Everything else, she made from scratch or retrieved from the cellar where there were always enough home-canned goods to get us through a nuclear holocaust. I do remember one time she and my father had quite a spirited discussion as to whether she should start buying canned biscuits at the grocery or continue to make them as she had always done. They both agreed that “scratch” biscuits tasted better, but catching them on sale once each month for six cents per can made more economic sense, so canned biscuits it was for the rest of my life at home.
Even late in life, after they had sold the farm, semi-retired, and actually had a little money, I never witnessed them spend money in anything close to a frivolous nature. In their minds, wastefulness in any form was just plain sinful, which probably explains why our Christmas presents were always wrapped in five year-old wrapping paper adorned with a ten year-old bow. I always promised myself that I would never be that “tight” with money unless faced with starvation.
A few months before my Dad passed away, I was helping him sort through their belongings. He and Mom were going to have a huge “moving sale” before they sold their last little farm and moved next to us. In a box, I found a tape measure that I remembered purchasing for shop class when I was in high school. The end of the tape had broken off at the two-inch line and Dad had rigged up a little piece of stiff wire to serve as the new hook. Amazed, I asked, “Don’t you have to be careful to add two inches to every measurement before you cut something?”
“Yep,” he answered, “but I haven’t had to buy another tape measure since you got out of school.” He made me promise not to write about that until he was gone. Even he was sometimes ashamed of how tight he had been.
I’ve told these and other stories of my parents' resourcefulness to my sons as they have grown older. They get a kick out of them, but remind me that I’m almost as bad. I assure them that I spend money like a drunken sailor compared to my parents. “Sure you do,” they say in unison as they roll their eyes.
At the coffee shop this morning, one of the regulars pointed to a penny lying underneath my stool. “My lucky day!” I exclaimed as I jumped to my knees and retrieved the one-cent piece. Everybody but one guy broke out in laughter. Evidently the one solemn-faced prankster had lost the bet made before my arrival, thinking I wouldn’t reach down for a penny.
Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry about his books or to arrange speaking engagements, you may contact him through his website at www.jerrycrownover.com