When I was a little kid growing up in a steel town in NEO, we were strapped for cash although I never had any idea. My two sisters and my brother and I never once heard our parents say anything about money being tight, and I don't recall ever feeling like I was missing out on anything. Oh, sure, my friends went places like Cedar Point amusement park and the drive-in movies, but it never occurred to me to even ask if we could go to those spots. I automatically assumed that, if those were Our Kind Of Places, then we would have already gone there.
One thing my father made sure we always had was plenty of really good food. And St. Patsy could always throw out the chow. In addition to her own collection of farmstyle recipes from her own family, she learned a bunch of good SerboCroatian and other European recipes from living with my dad's parents early in their marriage and from living in such a melting pot town. My mother's food is still, all these years later, wonderful. Dad was always brutally critical, however, and Patsy dreaded his forays into the kitchen while she prepared any meals. He cautioned her about the height of the flame on the burners, asked if she had washed her hands, and wondered aloud if there should be a lid on that. On one memorable weekend morning, Dad critiqued her pancakes. Mom threw one at him and vowed to never, ever make them again. She never did.
All of us kids looked forward to Saturday nights because it was Steak Night. If it was nice weather, Dad would set up the backyard charcoal grill and cook them outside. I don't know how they managed steaks for six people--it was always pinbone sirloins back in those days--but they did. Invariably, as he grilled, a neighbor would mosey over and say the sentence my father always dreaded: "Must be nice to be able to afford steak!" The observation was always delivered with the same hangdog look, followed by a sort of admonishing expression of disapproval. Dad detested it.
He wanted to tell them off, but he always said the same thing in a cool and level voice:
"Well, I don't smoke, drink, or chase women, so...."
Most of the neighbors who butted in and commented did one or more of those things, so that shut them up pretty quickly. Not to mention the fact that its implication--that my father saved money by not having expensive habits; therefore, he spent that money on something nice for his family--had the added effect of making them feel a little diminished. It really was a perfect response.
We all loved that rejoinder and started using it for anything we spent our money on. All of us had jobs, from babysitting to paper routes, so we had some pocket money every so often. If any sibling made fun of what we bought, we'd simply say, "Well, I don't smoke, drink, or chase women." Dad has been gone for more than a decade now, but years and years later, we all still use it.
Case in point: My sister Susan confided in me last month that she was in a bidding war on Ebay for a game. It was a game from her childhood, one that we had played and played and played together (at least when we were getting along). Both of us loved it, and we had even made up another game using its pieces. It had attained mythological status for us, but, sadly, it had become lost long ago. She sent me the link for it. At one point, the price soared to over thirty dollars. Thirty dollars for a game that had probably cost six bucks back in 1970, when she first played it! But Susan is a Nostalgia Junkie. She is hooked on her childhood. And that is why I wasn't the least bit surprised to find out that she was the winning bidder. At FIFTY-ONE DOLLARS. "Holy crap, Susan!" I said. "That's a lot of money! Who will play the game with you? Wow!" With her usual aplomb, she responded, "Look, I don't smoke, drink, or chase women. And you're gonna play with me, duh. And each time you do, I'm charging you a dollar."
Except that she does smoke (every so often), and she does drink. It is true, though, that she doesn't chase women.