This weekend, my mom and I reminisced about our old refrigerator. It may sound like an odd thing to remember with such fondness, but it stood for so much more than a place to keep the milk cold. To me, it is a reminder that having to do without is more than just an inconvenience; it can lead to strength, perseverance, creativity, and wonderful memories.
My mom’s refrigerator haled from the 1930s. It was tiny – easily less than half the size of modest refrigerators sold today. The freezer was practically nonexistent; it was a small space in the fridge big enough for an ice cube tray and a pound of hamburger.
Like many things we had in those days, we had it because it was cheap, if not free, and we were broke. We learned to do without, to get by with what we had, and to create something out of nothing.
We didn’t buy snacks at the drive-in movie theater; we popped our own popcorn in an air-popper, and brought our own Shasta. We didn’t buy books; we rode our bikes to the library. We were connoisseurs of garage sales and consignment sales, we scoured ads, clipped coupons, and knew all the rules to layaway.
We didn’t buy fun, we made it. We put on shows, danced to music, played board games. We had sleepovers in the living room, and gave each other makeovers.
My mom reminded me of the year she didn’t get paid until the day before Thanksgiving. We did our Thanksgiving grocery shopping at the 7-11. I don’t remember the meal that year, but I remember all the laughs.
I never realized until much later how much my divorced parents struggled to provide for us. It wasn’t easy at either house. Eventually, they both went back to college, and then on to amazingly successful careers. But as they say, they paid their dues, and I’m a better person today for having grown up during those due-paying times.
I never knew we were poor. There were things I wanted, but didn’t have. I knew it was because we couldn’t afford it, but somehow I was okay with that. I was just fine with having what I had. In fact, I have very, very few memories of gifts, toys, or other childhood baubles, and I think that is a gift. My memory is far too full with people and emotion.
My challenge is to give that same gift to my kids. Some days I think we’re doing great, but other days make me worry that they will never understand how to make do. I want them to know how to make a pound of hamburger stretch into four meals. They should learn how use coupons and price match. They need to be able to create fun with no electricity, and find something magical in each day without having to leave the house.
I want my children to be hungry, to have the kind of hunger that makes you work hard – harder than anyone else. My inspiration was that little refrigerator; I’m just not sure what theirs will be.
Cat Koehler is married with two children. She works full time. Read her Mondays on momaha.com
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