Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Channeling Grandmother Hardin

The news is bad. We keep hoping the economy’s hit rock bottom, a radical change in American morale compared to the last 80 years. When addicts beg for rock bottom, they’re usually there. But, our economy? Who knows?

Decades of living large and buying cheap have finally snagged us. It was long run kicked off by the racing gun fired in the 80’s. But, I guess all the junk we kept collecting weighed us down and now we’re caught good, pinned down by debt and unemployment.

Despite our frugality, the Golightly’s are in hard times too. So, I’m channeling Grandmother Hardin, my great, great grandmother, hoping she’ll reach back through the generations and share her sage advice. She was a survivor of The Depression. I recommend we all channel the women in our linage that ran the households of The Depression. Summon them now! They are the ones with the sound advice, not news anchor teams claiming they have the secrets to “Beating the Recession.” Sheesh!

Golightly thrift has saved us from what would feel like complete oblivion, foreclosure or bankruptcy. 10 years ago the line was laid to ignite the Denver market. We started house hunting when the fuse was first lit and spitting and flickering it’s way to the final ka-boom. In response, we were pre-approved on a loan to help initial offers stand solid. It nearly knocked the wind out of me to learn what banks were willing to throw at us. What? You want me to dive that deep into debt? Don’t we need pressurized submarines to go down there?

I fired the first realtor. He kept thinking he could nudge me up showing me homes with master suites with fiberglass monstrosities they call bath tubs and more bathrooms than we have people and pets in our family with a three-car garage. We were a one-car family. It might make sound me old and feisty but I’ve always said, “A car is a heavy thing to carry around and a pain to store and park.” Toss in a few explicates for emphasis if you like. That’s the simple truth. Here that Detroit? Cars are heavy! Make them light not lite! Make them go lightly too! For goodness sake be real and be honest!

I have Grandmother Hardin’s Singer treadle sewing machine. It’s basically a piece of furniture. She made her living off it and I surely suspect she made my grandfather’s boyhood clothes with it. It came to my home a few years ago, damaged by many years of sitting on crowded back porch with a good deal of water exposure. I tenderly took the wooden pieces apart to refinish them. I no idea the scale of this project, which lasted a month where she evened entered my dreams. The damaged veneer on the machine was too expensive to replace so I carefully sanded and stained every part to match. I felt I was resurrecting her legacy and coming to know the woman who was such a profound force in my grandfather’s life. He, in turn, is a profound force in mine.

Grandmother Hardin’s legacy was thrift. She walked the sidewalks looking down for lost coins, did her own dry cleaning for her husband’s suits and reused everything imaginable from buttons and zippers on thread bare clothes to wax paper.

Though she was thrift personified, she had enormous generosity for the things that mattered, mainly her grandson. And, what she gave always grew into something good. He has stories about her that would bring a tear to the hardest of hearts.

I’ve visited her grave only once. It’s far off in the country in a small town. I guess that’s a bit symbolic because her frugal lifestyle has been in an out of the way existence for a long time. The day I visited, I had a few minutes alone with her to thank her for her creation and care for my grandfather. I left a penny next to her gravestone as a small token. Why a penny and not a quarter? Well, I just don’t think there’s inflation in her current plane of existence and I’d like to think it’s a place where a penny can still make someone smile and say, "Thank you."

Sadly, I don’t know my way around a sewing machine, maybe when the children leave for college. But for now, I’m happy to sit at the machine, tap that smooth, perfectly balanced treadle and try to get in closer touch with the part of me that is Grandmother Hardin. Now more than ever, I need her. She knew thrift and never felt like it meant sacrifice, it just made common sense. As I tap the treadle I realize that we might have amazing new technologies, gadgets and gizmos, but what does that earn us without common sense and thrift?


Songbirdtiff said...

I'm fortunate to have a still living frugal relative, my grandfather. He makes the most of EVERYTHING! I was there the other day looking at all the seeds he has started that are now turning to plants. It's exciting and inspiring to see how he lives.

Sonya said...

That was beautiful.

I have been thinking of the depression era for a while now. My parents were both children of the Depression and a lot of what they did reflected that.

I never thought that I would someday appreciate those things they showed me while I was rolling my eyes. Shame on me.

Kelly said...

My Grandma Opal had a similar sewing machine that she taught me to sew on. I've got hers too!

You really need a correspondent from the South (who is really from the midwest)! Check out my post at

I'll Tell You Later Betty

Cricket said...

Well written!

Jenn said...

Sewing is easier than you think if you keep your expectations low. Even I am learning to do it! I have my grandmother's old machine, which is about 35 years old, and all I need. My 2¢ worth is this: figure out how to thread it (you can google your machine and probably find instructions.) Then take two rags and sew them together. If you can stitch 2 things together, you can sew a patch. Patching clothes gave me enough confidence to try making small things - this year I made my son's Easter basket! And hey, if all you ever do is use it to patch clothing, you'll surely bring a smile to your grandma's face!

miss c said...

I just wanted to say I found your blog yesterday and read the entire thing! I love it, and it helped reprogram a few misguided ideas I had about thrifting. I have always loved the way of thrift- I have a grandmother that's kind of like that (she won't buy ANYTHING that's not on sale- like, super duper sale). It was great to see a side to thrifting for thrift's sake, as I am a crafter and its usually all about finding things to disassemble. I too have found some gems at my local thrift stores, and my fiancee and I always have more fun shopping thrift in comparison with oh, say... Target?

Shopping Golightly said...

Miss C,

You raise an interesting irony. Many large-scale retailers have high paid consulting firms that devise strategies to make the shopping experience :desirable and fun." My attitude in those places is "get in & get out." You're right, the thrift experience is truly fun and all that these guys are thinking about is make money but, MOVE THAT INVENTORY!

Anonymous said...

I thought what you said about not wanting one of the big homes that realtors try to push on everyone. That was awesome to hear because we are programmed in our early years, or from the world around us, to always want bigger and better. Not many people can say that they are not going along for that ride. That's very commendable. My Dad taught me how to sew by giving me a small machine on my 7th birthday. Next Tuesday will mark 41 years of sewing bliss. It is an art almost forgotten. Alot of people think that it is more expensive to sew than to just go out to a store and buy something. To make it a frugal venture, I get fabric from friends who have abandoned a project or they have too much just sitting around, Craigslist, garage sales or waiting for it to go on a deep sale at the fabric store. Don't wait until your kids are gone to college. Mine have gone and you think you'll have more time then and you don't. Take just 10 minutes a day and start. There are books at the library, some videos too. I hope you'll love it as much as I do!


Saver Queen said...

What a beautiful post. I love thinking about how my relatives lived in order to survive and care for their families in hard times. My grandfather immigrated from Holland to Canada, along with his brother, and they became farmers. Tough labour. One of my favourite stories was about how my grandfather and my great-uncle both shaved their heads. They did this so that they would be too mortified to go into the nearby town and spend their money.

Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts.