Monday, 16 July 2012

Do what you have to do

I was moved this week by Outlaw Mama’s blog about Blue Baby, and her adult understanding of her grandma’s motivation for throwing out her beloved friend.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression. They both knew how to make a dollar stretch but even so, when I was growing up in our farm family, we didn’t have the reliability of a regular paycheque (or even the guarantee of a profit at the end of the year) that many of my classmates from town had.

I was acutely aware of this as a child. Town kids had Christmas oranges in their lunches as soon as they were available in the store; my mom tried to hold us off as long as she could before buying them, because they were expensive.

The one thing in the Christmas catalogue that I longed for but feared was too expensive at $19.99 to even ask for, was only one of several gifts a classmate got from her parents. (By the way, I got it, too, to my everlasting wonder and delight. I remember looking up at Mom and asking with my eyes if it was really okay to have it. She smiled and nodded and I could feel her joy even though neither of us had said a word.)

Then my mother got a job, which I eventually grew to understand she disliked intensely. She didn’t hate teaching as far as I know, but this was one classroom with several grades. The students were not raised to respect private property, or a woman in any position of authority, and they all spoke a second language that Mom did not. It wasn’t fun for her.  

But my brothers and I started getting small store-bought treats in our lunch, and we got our Christmas oranges earlier, too. We still watched our pennies, but we knew there were a few more of them around.

Fast forward 20 years.
When my first daughter was still a baby, we were juggling bills, putting one off this month so we could pay the one we’d skipped the month before, always a couple of steps behind (obviously, still farming!). So I went to town and dropped off resumes, and ended up demonstrating vacuum cleaners (which was always my career aspiration).

When I demonstrated them at Woolco, they gave me a part-time job, too. When the man from Eaton’s found out I worked at Woolco, he complained to the vacuum cleaner company, and I lost the demonstration job. With Christmas coming, I was able to pick up more hours in Woolco Hardware and Paint (because mixing paint was always my back-up aspiration, second only to demonstrating vacuum cleaners).

Eventually I got the household bills up to date. But I still didn't buy Christmas oranges as soon as they came into the stores.

Fast forward another 30 years.

When I get too worried about money (my hangover from those early married days), my husband says to me, “It’s always worked out before; it will again.”

He’s right. I know I worry too much. Both he and I have always had a we’ll-do-what-we-need-to-do-to-get-by attitude that has resulted in sidelines, side jobs and sacrifices to make it work for our family.

Now I wonder how much of that attitude in me is a result of Mom taking that job she so disliked when farming just wasn’t paying enough no matter how hard Dad worked, way back when I was lusting after Barbie and her big wardrobe in the Christmas catalogue.

Today I was in the produce store and, after considering the price because I am still my mother’s daughter, I bought out-of-season mandarin oranges. When I peeled one and bit into a sweet section of it at home, I thought of the hard times our own family has survived and how we made that happen, and I thought, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for showing me that you just do what you have to do.”

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