Having grown up in the great depression, my dad’s frugality is pretty baked in. Like many members of the so-called “silent generation,” he goes to great lengths not to waste anything. And I mean anything. As an adult, I’m kind of impressed by his extreme thrift, but as a child, I found it nearly mortifying.
Here’s an example: growing up, whenever my family dined at, say, Howard Johnson’s, Friendly’s, or IHOP, my dad would quietly gather the unused packets of sugar, jam, and other single-serve spreadables from the table and, when my mom wasn’t looking, slide them into her handbag (think: large, already stuffed, Mom-bag). Usually, he’d relocate them to the fridge as soon as we got home. On occasion, he got distracted and they’d remain in Mom’s bag until some later point of discovery, the most unfortunate being the summer morning that he smuggled home six foil-wrapped pats of butter that melted all over the inside of Mom’s purse.
Dad put the jams to immediate use for his breakfast. He has always been a toast-and-jam guy. At ninety, this is still his routine.
Meanwhile, the sugars joined the hundreds – literally hundreds – of other branded sugar packets – so that they might one day be offered to houseguests along with a cup of coffee. Since I didn’t grow up in a bed-and-breakfast, I am sure my Dad has them still, probably in a dresser. I am not kidding, I bet they’re in his sock drawer.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention lunchtime. Throughout most of my parents’ 50+ year marriage, they had a standing agreement regarding dinner: Mom cooked, and Dad did the dishes. But lunchtime was a total free-for-all. Everyone fended for themselves, including Dad.
Eager to prevent food spoilage, Dad would scour the fridge for leftovers. Sometimes his determination to use everything up resulted in unlikely – and, frankly, starkly unappetizing – food combinations (stew-topped spaghetti, shepherd’s pie salad, baked-cod-on-toast…). And then there were the sandwiches! Truly, anything might have been compiled into a sandwich – heels of bread, rinds of cheese, potato salad… beef stew. Dad avoided wasting food like it was his job. (Again, kind of awesome or really embarrassing? Hard to say.)
This Father’s Day, we say thanks to all the dads, quirks, and all! Whether you’ve cooked dinner every night or not at all. Thank you for doing what you do, in your way, to raise good humans!
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