I used the term 'cheap-wad' last night, in reference to a Christmas gift we were buying for someone. We were admittedly 'cheaping' out, but, as they say, "Tis the Season."
I come from a long line of cheap-wads. My mother was the Queen of them. Often she would approach us and slyly say, "Do you like these shoes?"
Often, we didn't. But not wanting to be blatantly rude, we would just nod our heads. Mother would put her hand up to her mouth, in a conspiring way, and say, "I just got them for twenty-five cents at the thrift store."
Or, a certain flaming orange-red polyester dress, complete with white and red gingham collar. "One dollar!" she'd say, gleefully, like she'd just gotten away with a bank robbery.
It became a joke among the sisters, whenever we complimented each other on an article of clothing, to whisper, "Hey, THANKS...I got it at the Thrift store....ten cents!"
We made bets on whether we could comment on any of Mother's clothing, without her telling us the origin, and the price. We stopped making those bets. It never happened.
Mother also believed in 're-cycling' clothing. We were alotted one pair of jeans per school year. For those of you that don't know; one pair of jeans for a girl, is simply not enough. If we were lucky enough to fit into last year's jeans,(or if they'd survived the past year) we could alternate between days. If not, we'd be stuck wearing the same pants day in and day out. Talk about nerdy. Plus, we had to wash them frequently, so they faded to oblivion. Lauren came up with the bright idea of dying them back to their original blue, so every so often, we did this. Worked like a charm, except for one problem...the white or brown or whatever color stitching always got dyed, too....and that was back when all dark colored jeans were not that cool. So... bummer for us.
Other items did not escape rationing. Food was one of them; especially cheese. We all loved it. My mother put the kabosh on the gorging ourselves of this commodity by dividing the cheese bricks into fifths...one for each sister. She would mark each baggie with our first initial. It wasn't long before Hildy figured out how to turn one of our initials into an "H", and war ensued. The War of the Curds....
Mother was also a 'Do It Yourself-er'. Years later, after I'd moved out and married, I was talking to her on the phone, and she was discussing some issues that the Youngest was having. She was worried about her. It was becoming clear that she might be in need of some counselling. A week later, I talked to Mother and she'd come up with a BRILLIANT solution.
"Well," she began, "the Youngest and I talk a lot. And our conversations always seem to do her a lot of good. So I was thinking....." she said, in that tone I knew all too well,"....I was just thinking that I could be your sister's counselor! AND...we could save a LOT of money! Do you have ANY IDEA how much a counselling session costs?"
I wanted to interject that sometimes the parents are the REASON that a child needs counselling....but I refrained.
Having said all of this, I have to concede that the grand finale of cheapness happened late one evening at our home. Lauren had been out with a friend, and had gone to a neighboring town, about twenty-five miles away. It was getting late, and my mother was beginning to fret. Midnight came and went. Finally, around one-thirty in the morning, a car pulled into the driveway. But it was not Lauren's car.
When Mother saw Lauren hop out of a car containing two young men in the front seat, she was livid. She began to give Lauren a tongue lashing, and gave the young men dirty looks. She was glaring at Lauren's friend, too, blaming her for being a 'bad influence' on her daughter. Finally Lauren was able to get a word in.
"MOM! STOP!" She said, "My car broke down. We were stranded on the highway. We waited forever for someone to help us. These guys tried to get my car started for the longest time. They couldn't. So they gave Marci and I a ride all the way back home."
Mother was having a hard time adjusting to this new information. It was obvious that she owed these boys a debt of gratitude,(not to mention an apology) at the very least. Even more decent would have been an offer to reimburse them for the gas they'd burned, in taking Lauren and Marci back home. Mother knew that she should do....something. She began with verbal rewards.
"Ohhhhh.....THANK YOU.....! THANK YOU for bringing my daughter home!"
Lauren had told me later that the internal struggle going on within Mother had been clearly visible.
Mother went on, "THAT WAS SOOOO NICE OF YOU! Thank you!"
She hesitated, knowing that she should make some sort of an offer, a generous gesture to compensate somehow. She began to move toward that direction, gingerly.
"Could I get you a......" She stopped herself, doing a mental inventory of something she'd be willing to part with.
"Could I get you an......apple......or something?"