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Six Immortal Lessons My Depression-Era Parents Taught Me

Mama and Daddy have been gone many years now. I miss them every day. They grew up during America's "Great Depression" of the 1930's and were part of what we now call "the Greatest Generation." Daddy was born in 1924 near Birmingham, Ala. Mama was born in 1928 in Greenville, Miss. From the time I could remember, I knew they were "Depression babies" (as Mama called herself). They didn't tell me their stories to nag me or to exalt themselves. They just wanted to teach me valuable lessons that books could never tell. And they wanted me to pass these lessons on to my family in due time.

Here are a few things I learned from them:

1. Be frugal.

Not cheap. Not a tightwad. There is a huge difference. My parents taught me that money does not grow on trees, because they grew up poor. My father was probably a lot more poor than my mother; he had only one pair of shoes for the whole year (he wore them in the winter) and his mother made his underwear out of a flour sack a time or two. Mama was more of a "city girl" and actually had indoor plumbing. But her mother made ALL of her dresses and playclothes for her, too. (My mother did not have a store-bought dress until she was a teenager.)

Daddy's mother became an elementary school teacher at the age of 19, and went to college at night to get her degree so she could continue to be a school teacher. His mother earned the only income for him and his brother and her elderly and sickly parents. (She had divorced her husband at age 19 and was a single parent.) So, you learned how to stretch a dollar. No one "gave" you any money.

My mother's father drove a truck for the Amour Star Meat Company for years, even though he had a degree from Mississippi State. And sometimes he was a deputy sheriff. Everyone in town loved him and thought highly of him. When he would come home from work, he would take whatever spare change he had in his pocket that day and lay it on the counter.

Mama's mother had to "make do" with whatever amount of change was on the counter. My mother told me that her mother was a miracle worker. She and her sister marveled that every day at supper time their mother had somehow bought and cooked a meat, a vegetable, and either rice or potatoes for the family. Nobody got fat in either family, but nobody starved either. They learned how to make every penny count, and to waste nothing on frivolous things.