Cores, Anyone?

1194986121678838258apple_core_01_svg_med Okay, at long last, here are some stories about my dad’s life during the Great Depression.

One of the earliest memories I have is watching my dad eat an apple. Dad always ate the whole apple – including the core and seeds. The only thing left was the stem. When I asked him why he ate the core, he told me during the Depression, his family was lucky enough to have apples almost all the time. When Dad would eat an apple at school, in his yard or on the street, a kid would always yell, “Core!” This was the way to get “dibs” on the core after Dad was done eating the flesh of the apple. After the Depression was over, no one yelled “Core!” Dad said he didn’t know what to do with it (the thought of throwing it away didn’t occur to him since neighborhood kids used to “fight” for the apple cores) so Dad started eating it himself. Contrary to popular belief, eating apple seeds will not cause an apple tree to sprout out your bellybutton.

When I was growing up, we had pot roast almost every Sunday. When I was seven years old, Dad told me when he was a kid, sometimes his mother would give him a piece of fat and gristle s which he could chew like gum since, obviously, he didn’t have money for gum. Perhaps this is where the phrase “chewing the fat” came from. Since I loved gum (still do!), I asked if I could chew the fat the next day. Monday morning I went to school with my piece of beef fat in my mouth (the future vegan in me said “Ewww!” while the seven year old version of me felt closer to my dad). I still remember the teacher calling me on the carpet for chewing gum in class. I took such pleasure in telling her I wasn’t chewing gum and trying to explain away her confused look as to WHY I was chewing a piece of beef fat. My poor second grade teacher was only in her 20s and didn’t know the first thing about the Great Depression. She ended up calling my parents to check out my story and then invited me to earn extra credit by giving a report on “the way things were” back then.

My dad got his first job when he was four years old. He set up pins at the bowling alley. When he was five, he started hauling pieces of scrap metal or old tires over a mile to get paid by the salvage yard. Sometimes he was paid better than his father who worked for the telephone company. Dad would collect glass soda bottles to be refilled in order to get a free bottle of soda and sometimes he got enough money to go to the nickle movie, too. My father always was a saver and, in fact, retired at the age of 40 because following college, he always saved half of his income and invested it.

Dad didn’t balk at investing in the stock market. In fact, in the ‘80s following Black Tuesday, I asked Dad how much money he lost that day. I was stunned at the figure. He gave me a great piece of advice, “The stock market is just like gambling, except that you have a chance to win at the stock market. Never gamble more than you can afford to lose, and never think of it as ‘your money’ – it’s money only in theory until you sell the stock.” Dad also strongly believed in investing money long term. I remember once his broker from Merrill Lynch called our house. She was taking over my dad’s portfolio after his previous broker retired (after an amazingly long career since most brokers burn out in less than 10 years). I was in high school and took the call because my dad wasn’t at home. The broker told me my dad was amazing with his discipline and knowledge in investing. She saw in his history how he would frequently build up his investments, cash them in (for a house, car, medical expenses) and then build them up again. This was especially impressive since his only “education” in the stock market was that he read Forbes magazine from cover to cover.

When I was 10 years old, I got my first bicycle. When I learned my parents didn’t intend to buy me training wheels, we locked in a battle of wills. It’s hard to say who won – I never got training wheels, but I also never got on the bike. In any case, when I first got the bike, Dad asked if he could ride it. Down the driveway he went – he rode like his blood alcohol content was ten times the legal limit! When I laughed at him and asked him what was wrong, he told me – with tears running down his face – that it was the FIRST time he’d EVER been on a bike. Dad was 52 at the time. When he was a kid, he constantly saved for a bicycle. But every time he got close, his mother would “borrow” money for groceries and Dad never had enough in savings at any one time to buy a bike.

My dad would always tell you how lucky he was during the Great Depression. His father was never out of work. He had several uncles living with them so everyone could pool their resources and make ends meet. You already know his family often had apples and frequently had a small piece of meat for soup or stew. Dad frequently ate at his friends’ houses where he dined on things like lard sandwiches or ketchup in water for “tomato soup”, reminding him how fortunate he was. I was always struck by the fact that his friends’ parents invited him to join them for lunch or dinner when they didn’t have enough themselves.

I know financial times are tough, but we are nowhere near another Great Depression. We need to learn to be grateful for what we have and practice the money management lessons from those times: live below your means, save, don’t waste (metaphorically eat your apple cores), invest and don’t panic as the market goes up and down as long as you’re young enough to see the next upswing, and see how blessed you are compared to others.

GIVEAWAY: For more help in these tough economic times, enter this week’s drawing for a free copy of Living Rich for Less by Ellie Kay. Please e-mail your name and mailing address to seewhykinsman@yahoo.com to be entered in the random drawing this Friday, December 19th. Good luck!

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